Cicada sex show says something about human life. It’s not good

So the cicadas are having an orgy, right? Pop out of the ground, fly around, singing their whirring lovesong, meet, mate, lay their eggs and promptly expire. Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking chitinous nymphal exoskeleton behind, stuck to a tree branch.

The circle of life. Yet the double dose of cicadas in Illinois right now seem to leave the media focusing on their strangeness, the exotic red-eyed bug pageant, while willfully ignoring the larger implications they offer to us. Charles Darwin, prompted by an ancient plow to consider the plowing done by earthworms, certainly saw it, writing: “Man with all his noble qualities, with his godlike intellect which was penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system … still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”

Does he ever. The cicadas are not exactly an advertisement for the deep spiritual meaning of earthly existence. They’re here to procreate and die. We are too, more or less. Pop out of a dark place, mature in a moment, flap around, do the deed and vanish — though humans do have midnight feedings and help with homework to kick-start the next generation, which cicadas manage in a few strands of DNA.

The cicadas arrive by the trillions since a good percentage are gobbled by squirrels and trampled underfoot. People populate the earth by the billions to make sure there’s a partner for just about everybody. Our gravestones and photo albums and memorial halls barely conceal the fact that we’re here for only a little bit longer than cicadas. A mumbled sentence or two versus an eye blink.

This central place that procreation holds in the scheme of existence has to be a real bummer for the childless. They won’t like the suggestion that the only purpose of being alive is to pass on your DNA, and the rest is distraction.

Not that I’m saying this, mind you. Don’t get mad at me. I don’t care what you do, or don’t do. It’s nature sending this horde of winged monsters to frolic under our noses, reminding us, subtly, of our primary job. I’m just the messenger. Ditto for those who believe their purpose on earth is so their eternal soul can eventually sit cross-legged in heaven, smiling up at Jesus. I wouldn’t dream of arguing with you. Which is not the same as saying you’re right.

Sorry. But Memorial Day 2024 was strange, right? It isn’t just me. I hope. My wife and I were a little late arriving at Northbrook’s Memorial Day parade Monday. Hurrying past the garbage truck parked smack in the middle of Cedar Lane to thwart any driver trying to plow into the high school marching band. Past the signs telling parade-goers that police surveillance drones are in use. Past the police officers with the long guns, scanning the crowd. The cicadas aren’t the only ones with well-honed survival instincts. My wife cast a scrutinizing glance at the roof of the elementary school — not two years since the July 4 Highland Park mass shooting.

At least people showed up to see the parade, such as it was — a few vets, a couple Scout packs, two bands and a firetruck. Eight minutes, start to finish. I walked back home stiff-arming the sense that something is wrong. Not to blame the organizers. I’m sure they had their reasons.

I was the only person on my block to put out the flag this year. I said the Pledge of Allegiance, hand over my heart. But honestly, I didn’t feel it. What I feel is the country perched at the top of a very long slope, like the first big hill of a roller coaster. You gaze horror-struck into the abyss and think, “Are we really going down there? Is it even possible?” What should we do? I can’t decide whether to hold on tight or thrust my fists straight into the air. Embrace the fall. Heck, Bulgakov wrote “The Master and Margarita” under Stalin.

The cicadas whir like flying saucers in a 1950s horror movie. When they next return, I’ll be 80. Why not? People are 80 all the time. A long way from doing their biological duty, yet still showing up every day, doing something, enjoying this one precious life each of us, man or bug, is given.

There might be grandkids by then. That’s out of my hands. Like the cicadas, I’ve done my job and sent children into the world. “They increase the cares of life,” Francis Bacon wrote in 1597, “but they mitigate the remembrance of death.” Let’s hope so.

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