On Moths and Meaning

Moths have been appearing in the house these past few weeks. They are small, maybe 2-3cm in wing span, and of the grey, furry variety.

Probably startled each time I switch on the light in the bedroom or study - J’s studio where he worked - there would be a moment of frenzied flying, sometimes around or at me, before the moth would settle in a corner, on the floor or simply fly out of the window. Early this week, a moth with a broken wing emerged from its hiding place behind some books and lay basking under the light on the study’s floor. It stayed there with me till I went to bed.

The Chinese believe that moths are spirits of dead loved ones visiting. Don’t ever kill a moth - it could be your great grandpa! The month of QingMing in April especially. Or on significant dates of mourning - the 1st day of a wake, the 7th day of a person’s passing. My rational mind postulates that the wet QingMing season, like now, must be when moths are most drawn to light and perhaps the warmth it promises.

When J’s mom died, the family got all excited one evening when a large atlas moth visited her flat. It spent considerable time resting on the house phone, which pleased everyone terribly. And even more when it entered the bedroom. J’s mom loved chatting with relatives on the phone. She also loved J’s dad much. I realize I don’t remember how J was like that evening, if he was similarly excited and comforted by the moth-mother. We never spoke much about her passing. He was relieved she was no longer suffering. But I know she loved him much as the youngest and it upset him very much to see his strong, outgoing mom become a completely different person after the stroke. Perhaps he never dealt fully with his grief. We should have spoken more about it together.

I greeted the moths at home with some relief, but mostly nervousness. Relief that they were not flying cockroaches escaping from a recently fumigated rubbish chute! Nervous that this sentimental Chinese superstition would bring up a host of emotions I didn’t need any more triggers for. The right thing to do with such nervousness, of course, was to run to God in prayer. But I found myself each time with some variation of these statements instead, my own sorcery - Com’on lah, this is not what I mean when I asked you to come back. I know it is not your spirit. Don’t do this to me. I will not care. So what if your wing is broken - sweet J, baby.

We all seek meaning. Regardless of our religious leanings. A rainbow. Cloud formations. A sudden downpour. Moths visiting. Our attempts to accord an object or event with significance is mostly futile and false. But this is not to say we do not need and want, sometimes desperately, the things and events around us to reflect our faith and desires, to explain us to ourselves.

Last night, surrounded by friends, a tiny black spotted moth flew into the house as we went into the study to retrieve a cactus one of the friends was adopting. Just for a second, I thought - please J, not now. But the warmth and blessing of friends quickly took over. I looked around at our friends and realised: isn’t this the goodness and reality - the meaning - of God’s love, demonstrated in the living out of his commandment to love one another?


Anonymous said…
Last night, a brown moth flew into my kitchen. It reminds me that Ching Ming festival is coming as every year at this time the moth will appear. It is believed to be spirit of my mom who passed away more than 30 years ago. This species of moth returns every year without fail so how not to believe?
ampulets said…
Ching Ming is typically in April. It is Springtime. And it is actually the time of new life. And so, much of nature is springing into life. Insects in particular, as they feed on flowers and plants. That's my "scientific"/logical explanation :)

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