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ILLUSTRATION BY WENTING LI

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I recently celebrated my 10-year anniversary of immigrating to Canada by thinking about giant moths.

In the fall of 2007, a swarm of migratory moths descended upon the coastal city in Australia where I was living with the woman who became my wife. At that time, we were both international students – me from England, and she from Canada – and had been dating for about six months. But unbeknownst to us, that swarm of moths was a portent for what our future would hold.

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We were finishing our graduate degrees at the University of Wollongong in Australia, a charming city about 100 kilometres south of Sydney, nestled between mountains and the ocean, where students go surfing between classes.

We never learned to surf, but we sometimes trekked to the mountains on the weekend. One Saturday, we walked to the outskirts of the city for an all-day trek when we noticed a storm coming in. There was a black cloud moving over the top of the mountains and heading toward the city. This didn’t make sense. We had checked the weather forecast that morning and there was no mention of a storm or even rainfall.

This black cloud came closer and partially covered the sun. A deep rumble echoed in the mountains and sounded like leaves being violently scattered. We turned around and started heading back as people got into their cars and drove in the opposite direction. Once we approached the edge of the downtown area, close to our apartment, I began to notice these huge moths, dark grey, with a wingspan the full breadth of my hand. Anyone still on the streets was promptly rushing indoors.

By the time we reached our apartment building, we were running and swatting these moths as they engulfed us, landing on our clothes and in our hair. The distant rumbling had transformed into something more closely resembling the sound of a whitewater rapid, and a swarm of these moths had now blocked out the sun entirely and cast the afternoon into 3 a.m. darkness. I turned and looked at the sky. There must have been several billion directly above us.

As we watched the swarm from our apartment window, it was like witnessing a judgment from the Old Testament. The visibility was maybe 20 feet, and everything beyond that was encased within a thick grey soup. Moths careened into the glass and bounced off with a vaguely melodious jingle. It was mesmerizing and terrifying. When I saw one in the family room, I assumed we had brought it in with us. But then I saw another and another and traced them to the bathroom where I discovered them entering via the light-fixture. I watched as they emerged, having collapsed their wings and pushed their bodies through the narrow slit between the light canopy and the ceiling. I rolled up a magazine and hit one hard in flight, barely knocking it off course.

In Australia, it’s safer to presume that most insects will bite you and deliver a harmful poison. Upon that thought, I shut the door to the bathroom, and embarked on a systematic extermination of any that had broken out. It took a full-arm strike against the wall from a thick magazine to take them down. And even then, I had to follow up with a few stamps from the business end of my shoe. I reentered the bathroom with my head and face bound in a scarf, armed with a tall can of deodorant and the magazine. Once I’d closed off their entry point with duct tape, I proceeded to thrash and spray my way through hundreds of moths. It was probably the most exhausting and abstract way that I’ve ever spent an hour.

The following morning, they were gone. They had vacated the city and moved on to someplace else. Later that day, I found out from my neighbour that this type of moth is called a bogong moth, notable for its biannual migrations to the Australian Alps, and native to the state of southern Queensland. Every once in a while, the wind blows the swarm off its migratory path and it ends up invading coastal cities, like the one I lived in. The locals brushed it off as “that bloody moth invasion again,” and went back to their regular routines.

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More than a decade has passed since that day, and rarely does a month or a moth go by that I don’t think about it. That event perfectly articulated the theme of my life, both before and after. Two years later I undertook a migration of my own – to Canada, where I started a new life in a new home with the young woman who outran a storm of giant moths with me.

Immigrating to Canada meant leaving my place of birth to travel thousands of miles to Australia in order to travel thousands of miles in a different direction. Prior to that, my life had been one continuous migration from young adulthood into my early 30s, neither settling for anywhere or anyone. Yet, somehow, this all had to happen exactly the way it did for me to reach my final destination. To get to my true home and find my true love. I hadn’t been blown off course any more than I had been blown on course. It was all just part of the journey and the path I have been walking my whole life.

Like a migratory moth, there was an internal program running inside of me. This sudden invasion of giant moths was a motif and a harbinger of my destiny. The dead moth carcasses I cleaned up inside my apartment the next day were the former parts of myself I had shed that no longer served me. I was migrating to a purpose and a destination I can now only fully comprehend when I look back at my life. But life has to be lived in forward motion, in the faith that it will all work out in the end. And I’m confident that our three children will tell you that it all worked out well in the end.

When I think about my younger days living in different parts of the world and having exciting experiences and adventures, there was always a darkness that followed me. This sometimes blocked the light, and as long as I kept migrating somewhere else, somewhere new, I could avoid it. Until finally, when I stopped moving on and became consumed by the thing I had feared and been avoiding my whole life, I was transformed by it. By love. And the darkness became the light in my life that led me home.

Drew Dias lives in Mississauga, Ont.

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