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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.