What if we were like cicadas and took 17-year naps?
The so-called Brood X cicadas emerging in parts of the United States this spring made their last appearance here in 2004, and before that they visited in 1987, 1970, 1953 and 1936.
Maybe there's something about these 17-year intervals that's meaningful to humans, especially if you are past middle age (like me) and in the mood to reflect on the stepping stones of your life.
Today, I've tried to frame my life in the years of the Brood X cicada risings during my lifetime. Seventeen-year intervals are broad jumps, stretches of life that allow for significant growth. (Full disclosure: A New York Times writer used this same yardstick in a column last week, but I was also discussing this thought exercise with friends weeks ago, as have others.)
So let's hop in the time machine.
> 1970: I was born in 1958 in Columbia, Tennessee, so my first encounter with this variety of cicadas was in 1970 when I was 12.
I actually remember finding cicada molts (exoskeletons) in my front yard and being mildly alarmed. They looked like suits of armor for tiny dinosaurs. In 1970, the media wasn't so good at following nature stories so I had no idea what I was witnessing. I just chalked it up to one of life's many mysteries. Before Google, sometimes you just shrugged.
I remember riding the school bus to Whitthorne Junior High School that year and listening to the Osmonds and the Jackson 5 on a transistor radio. "One bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch, girl." I was in my last year of Little League baseball. My team was Matthews Motors. Richard Nixon was president, and the Vietnam War still dominated the nightly news.
Shy and bookish, I was a 12-year-old embodiment of an anxious adolescent. I broke the silence of my life with clackers, plastic spheres tied together with shoestrings that banged together, high and low. I was a drummer with strong wrists, so I became a clacker prodigy — not a particularly useful life skill, it turns out
> 1987: By then 29, I had been in the reporting business for seven years. More importantly I was transitioning from my misspent 20s, a fog of hangovers and cigarette smoke, to a more productive decade of personal and professional growth. In my 30s, I would become a husband, columnist and part-time teacher.
In 1987, my pride and joy was a 1985-and-a-half Honda CRX Si compact car. It looked like an atomic Easter Egg and fit my mildly eccentric personality.
Looking back, this period was a pivot point in my life that could have gone up or down. Thankfully, I chose up.
> 2004: By then a father — our oldest son was 3 in 2004 — I was in the full thrall of parenthood. I remember sitting on the front porch after his first rec soccer game and eating a Popsicle.
He scored two goals, and I was on top of the world.
"Pretty good day," I mused.
"Yep," he replied through purple lips.
Time seemed to shift, and for the first time in my life during this period, fear lifted, replaced by something milder: apprehension.
> 2021: Greeting the cicadas again, I just turned 63. Still not entirely brave, I feel like a full life has at least given me shock absorbers.
The kid who was 3 in 2004 is home from college. I can hear his music wafting in from the garage, where he is building a table for my sister, his aunt.
I'm hoping some cicadas will show up in our yard so I can hand off the tradition of looking for their shells to our two sons this summer. My iPhone calculator tells me their Brood X cicada years will be 2038, 2055, 2072 and beyond.
If our youngest son lives to be 100, a distinct possibility for his generation, he will be around for the 2106 cicada uprising — 130 years after a 12-year-old boy in Columbia, Tennessee, marveled as a fragile insect shell amid the raised roots of an oak tree.
And the circle of life continues.
Email Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.