Catching Happiness (by Billy Coffey)

Around here the fun doesn’t start until after the sun gives way to other, more exotic forms of light. Evening, some call it. Other words also apply: sunset, dusk, nightfall. I’ve never cared for any of those words. To me, they fall short of their intended mark.

Despite the reference to shiny vampires, I’ve always preferred the term “twilight.” That seems to effectively sum up that middle part of the day when night advances and daylight retreats. It’s an almost magical word, twilight. And as that struggle between night and day is both brief and seamless, magic seems a perfect definition.

Here in the Virginia foothills, twilight magic can be found in the nearest field just after the deer have left and just before the whippoorwills begin to sing. There is a serene stillness that eases itself over the landscape, quieting the air. And then, flittering among the tips of the grass, will come a dash of light as fleeting as twilight itself.

Then another.

And then another.

Lampyridea to the smart people. Fireflies to the normal ones. Summer’s version of winter’s Christmas.

My wife and I sat on the back deck this past Fourth of July and watched as fireworks boomed over our neighborhood in starbursts and whorls. A wonderful sight. Also one largely ignored by our children, who were instead chasing fireflies around the backyard.

It seemed to me both fairly ridiculous and utterly right. Ridiculous that the red, white, and blue explosions overhead were no match for the tiny yellow flickers right in front of us. Utterly right because we could only ooh and aah at the painted sky, but we could catch the fireflies.

My kids think the purpose of the firefly’s twinkle is so they may be caught by seeking hands. It’s a bioluminescent dare, a challenge to come out and play. And it works. For all of us. Any adult worth his salt, no matter how jaded, will lurch for a firefly when it shimmers near.

What sparks this reaction has always eluded me. But when my son managed to snag a firefly just before it flew out of his tiny reach, he offered me an answer.

“I caught the happy, Daddy!” he yelled over the neighbor’s latest volley.

“You did what?” I asked.

“I caught the happy,” he repeated. “Don’t the lightning bugs make you happy?”

“They do.”

He stared at the bug and smiled. “Can I keep it in a jar, Daddy?” he asked.

“Better not. It needs to fly around. If you put it in a jar, it’ll die.”

He sighed in surrender and opened his cupped hand. Fingers wide, he then released it back into the night.

Scientifically speaking, the firefly’s glow is the result of the luciferase enzyme acting on luciferin, ATP (adenosene triphosphate), and oxygen. The reason for this miniature fireworks show is much simpler than coaxing children to play a game, though. It’s to find a mate. To search through the darkness for something that makes the darkness worthwhile. Metaphorically speaking, the firefly is after what my children were that night. What we are all after every day.


That’s a tough thing to find in this world. Like the sputter of a firefly’s abdomen, happiness is a fleeting thing, too. And often elusive. It shimmers and sparkles in the darkness of our lives, coaxing us to reach out and grasp.

My eyes wandered from the fireworks on the ground to those in the air. Rocket’s red glare and bombs bursting in air is enough to make a guy like me think. We light the darkness every Fourth of July in celebration of more than a country, but an idea. One that says all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. The right of love, for instance. And liberty.

And the pursuit of happiness.

That last one was what caught my attention that night. It was a powerful suggestion, one worth going to war. To our forefathers, God had given us the right to pursue our happiness. He had built the desire for happiness into the human heart. Placed it there on purpose. And He expected us to go looking for it. But that was where it ended. We had the right to pursue our happiness, but not to find it.

Those were wise men. They knew the true state of humanity.

Because we all are running around in the darkness chasing those fleeting shimmers. We’re all grasping for our happiness. Many times we’re a little too late or a little too off, and all we take hold of is more darkness.

And sometimes that magic sneaks in and we take hold of that brilliance, cradling it in our hands and marveling at the sight.

But like the firefly my son held, we need to know that the happiness we catch in life isn’t ours to keep. Do that, and it’ll die. No, better is to do what he did.

To open both hand and heart. To give back what we’ve been given.


This is a perfect time for you to do just that. To give back.

Chris Sullivan is a friend of my tiny blogging world, and he’s about to go on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. He’s a fantastic guy with a fantastic heart for God, and I’d like nothing better if you could pop OVER HERE and offer anything you can. Maybe a few dollars, maybe a little time, and surely many, many prayers. You’ll like him. I promise. Any guy who has sponsoring baseball players as part of his mission trip is tops in my book.

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19 Responses to “Catching Happiness (by Billy Coffey)”

  1. Chris Sullivan July 13, 2009 at 1:12 am #

    >Billy,you have a gift brother. I don't know what else to say.

    Thank you Kat and everyone that ventures over to my little blog. Praying for God to move in ways I can't explain or take credit for.

  2. Shark Bait July 13, 2009 at 3:43 am #

    >Now Katdish,

    You know Billy Coffey writes for you on a Monday; and I know it as well. And anyone who knows you both can immediately see the difference in your writing styles.

    But for the rest of the world, you might want to make it clearer before they wonder what you and your wife were doing in Virginia.


  3. katdish July 13, 2009 at 6:52 am #

    >Shark Bait –

    I KNEW the title was missing something! Thanks.

    And Chris, thank you.

  4. Candace Jean July 16 July 13, 2009 at 7:36 am #

    >Awesome, as always, Billy. Heading to Chris' blog now. Any friend of yours is a friend of mine.

  5. sherri July 13, 2009 at 8:39 am #

    >I believe in sharing it even when I only have a little left for myself- then it comes right back around to me… more than before.

    I've always been in awe of the firefly (we call them lightening bugs here). One of the FEW bugs that I'll get close to!
    Loved your thoughts.

  6. Holly Brennan July 13, 2009 at 9:14 am #

    >Catching happiness…beautiful idea. I've found that very little compares to just settin' on the front porch watching those little lights fade in and out…

  7. Annie K July 13, 2009 at 9:21 am #

    >Some of my happiest memories are catching fireflies at my grandma's house in Ohio.

    Oh, and when I was in a little village in Mexico a few years ago, the Dominican Republic Jr.'s baseball team was there for a tournament. It was pretty cool watching all those kids play. I think we were the only Americans there. Put that on the 'list' Billy – to catch a junior league tournament in Mexico. Cool stuff.

  8. Lianne July 13, 2009 at 10:39 am #

    >My husband and I just had a deep discussion about these same creatures a couple of weeks ago. But just over what to call them. He calls them fireflies and I (am right and) call them lightning bugs.

    You never forget that smell they leave on your hands, either.

    Great post!

  9. Sarah Salter July 13, 2009 at 10:50 am #

    >On July 4th, I had to go to bed quite early so that I could get up quite early to go catch a flight. As we wandered into the house from supper that night, I was thinking about the fact that I wouldn't be up late enough to see any fireworks. And then, a little twinkle caught my eye. It was a lightnin' bug. I stopped and smiled and watched them for a couple minutes. You're right. I caught happiness. And even though I didn't see the town's fireworks display, I don't feel as though I missed a thing. 🙂

  10. Helen July 13, 2009 at 11:08 am #

    >I remember chasing fireflies a lot as a child…

    Ok. Sometimes I still do…

  11. Beth July 13, 2009 at 11:34 am #

    >Yeah, we call them lightening bugs, too. How cute is your son?? I love the things kids say, because they tend to say it in a way that makes you stop and think. 🙂

    Katdish, whaddup with the white background? It makes me think that you might be less dark and twisted now…

  12. katdish July 13, 2009 at 11:50 am #

    >Oh, Beth! You know me better than that! Mwha, ha, ha!

  13. Joanne Sher July 13, 2009 at 12:41 pm #

    >Beautiful, lovely thoughts, and much to ponder (as usual, of course!).

  14. April July 13, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

    >Once again…you've left me completely speechless! I'm on my way now to check out Chris' blog!

  15. lynnrush July 13, 2009 at 1:39 pm #

    >Amazing story. Love it.

  16. jasonS July 13, 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    >Loved it as always! Thanks.

  17. Denise July 13, 2009 at 8:08 pm #

    >I love it, love it.

  18. Jeanne Damoff July 13, 2009 at 10:52 pm #

    >"We’re all grasping for our happiness. Many times we’re a little too late or a little too off, and all we take hold of is more darkness."

    That's the most profound thing I've read today.

    Tomorrow we arrive home after several weeks of travel, and I will open a large cardboard box that is now in the back of our car. It's a 3×4 foot painting my daughter did for my 50th birthday. She brought it from Seattle in her car and delivered it to us in Colorado. I've already seen it, so I know It depicts me as a young girl wearing a white dress, my long hair caught in the breeze. If you look closely you notice I have faint, gossamer wings. In my hand is an open mason jar and I'm releasing 50 fireflies into a swirly night sky. There are a few other elements to the painting–a willow tree with dancing limbs and a stream flowing from under its roots–all symbolic of my life in one way or another. But what I absolutely LOVE most is the 50 bits of "happiness" I'm setting free. And the fact that she gave me wings.

    Thanks for adding even more delight to the image with your thoughts.

    Love, Jeanne

  19. Beth E. July 13, 2009 at 11:13 pm #

    >What a great post, Billy…the pursuit of happiness!

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