I'm honored to share this guest post from Mary Ann Johnson, a participant on our June 2013 Summer Solstice Retreat. For more about this piece, see the epilogue at the end.
The Mayfly and the Chair
"Help!" cried the mayfly. "I can't seem to move. I am batting my wings but I'm not going anywhere."
"Stop moving," said the chair, "you are just making your situation worse."
"Well, I just can't hang here," protested the mayfly. "I will die."
"But you can't get away. Haven't you noticed all of those dead mayflies around you? My back is like a mayfly cemetery. Which I don't appreciate, by the way."
"Shit! Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit! Nooooooooo," wailed the mayfly. "But certainly at least one other mayfly has escaped--please tell me one has gotten away."
The chair paused for a moment, then said, "if one has, I don't know about it. I am sorry, so sorry. Your wings are delicate, the web is strong. It is not of my doing. I am just the object on which this web was woven. If it was up to me, I would be web free, and my bright green back would be a perfect spot for you to rest your wings in the sun."
"So I am to hang here with no hope?" the mayfly asked quietly. "This is it? My life is over?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so," the chair replied.
"But I should have eleven more hours left of my life," the mayfly once again protested. "Eleven more glorious hours. I want to find love again. I want to float on a breeze. Even two more hours would be nice--just two more hours. Could I have that?"
After quite a long silence, the chair said, "it is not up to me."
After working as a nurse and wound-care specialist for over thirty years, Mary Ann Johnson has shed that role to become a full-time grandmother, traveler, and lover of life. She will soon be moving from Kentucky to Fairfax, Virginia, to live with her daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Mary Ann's essay, "Innocence is Overrated," is soon to be published in a new book collection called This I Believe, based on the National Public Radio series of the same name.
"The Mayfly and the Chair" emerged spontaneously while Mary Ann was at the Elephant Rock Summer Solstice retreat, after several related writing exercises over the course of a few days. The exercises started with a silent nature hike, then later a series of concrete sensory observations, followed by an exploration of metaphor and the relationship between inner and outer, and finally, a dialogue between two inanimate entities observed on the silent hike (plants, animals, objects, etc.). Mary Ann chose a mayfly caught in a web on the back of a green adirondack chair and the chair itself for her dialogue. As the dialogue emerged she recognized an allegory for her relationship with her oncologist. Mary Ann is fighting stage four breast cancer. She was surprised and moved by what the mayfly and the chair had to say, and so were we.