Dear July, one: a moth's wing.

Wednesday, July 1

I opened my eyes this morning to sunlight, feeling quite quietly happy. Happiness is a difficult kind of emotion (or ‘state’) because it is not – I’m noticing – the absence of fear. It’s clear-water-flowing kind of lovely. But it’s also fear-inspiring. It is fragile and translucent and if you hold it up to the light, you can often see through it. (I have the image here of one of the contestants on The Great British Bake Off holding up a square of dough she’s just been kneading, telling the camera-man, ‘If you can see through it, like little stained glass windows, then that’s how you know it’s ready’ – light shining through, but little holes already starting to form on the surface).

The question this morning then is: how to live with that? How to allow oneself to be happy – to feel the warmth of it, light of it, soft feathery touch of it – while living with this ‘fear’ (or knowledge) of its fleetingness. The temptation is to cling on tightly, to grasp.

Over the past six or seven months, I’ve been living with the phrase: ‘Hold all things with an open hand’. It came quite clearly into my head one day in the dark of winter and in the months that have followed I keep returning to it, trying to figure out what it means and whether it’s something that’s worth paying attention to. 

Last night, I was thinking about something my my Gran said a few evenings ago when she was over. She was talking about a moth my little cousins befriended in the garden last Friday when she was watching them after school. ‘Ollie the moth,’ she said, laughing. ‘That’s what they called him.’ They’d both been kneeling on the grass next to it, whispering encouraging things, trying to get the moth to climb onto their finger by pushing it with a leaf. When she realised what they were doing, she called out, ‘Oh, just be careful, girls. If you touch a moth’s wings you might damage them and it won’t be able to fly anymore. Maybe just let him alone.’

(Side-note: I remember her telling me this piece of moth-wisdom when I was little. Although, I can’t quite imagine in what context. My cousins seem much braver than me when I was their age as you’d have been far more likely to find me running away from the moth than christening it and coaxing it closer. From the ages of about seven to eleven, I used to go to bed every night praying: ‘Dear God – please don’t let any insects come into my room tonight.’ 

When, screaming, I discovered a spider lurking on the ceiling one night, and then a bluebottle a few nights later, I realised that my prayers were clearly too vague and God needed much clearer instructions if He was going to help me out. Thus began the ever-expanding List of Undesirables that I’d recite nightly to make sure He was crystal clear about what I meant. ‘No wasps, God. No flies, no spiders, no earwigs, no woodlice, no beetles, no worms, no ants, no caterpillars...’ I’m pretty sure moths were somewhere on that list).

Anyway – I was thinking about what she said again last night. ‘If you touch a moth’s wings, you’ll damage them...’ I think that might be what happiness is like: Happiness is a moth’s wing. It’s beautiful and strong. It allows for flight. But it’s also extremely delicate. So: notice it. Enjoy it. Sit with it. But be gentle with it. (A difficult thing to do). Let it come to you, but hold it with an open hand

Be gentle.


Partly inspired by Emily Diana Ruth’s video series ‘Letters to July’, I’ve set myself a challenge to write something on here every day this month in an effort to be more attentive. (I'm also in the middle of a PhD, so most of the posts will be much shorter than today's...) 

As well as writing every day, I’m also going to read a poem each morning this month. Today’s one was: Full Moon by Alice Oswald.


  1. What a lovely post and I may join you on reading a poem a day, it's a lovely idea. I really enjoy Emily's Letters to July series, they are always so beautiful x

    1. I agree. And I think I actually first heard of her on your blog! So thank you :)


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