Earlier this summer I did a Flash Fiction Friday, which from now on I’m just going to acronym FFF, on butterflies as a metaphor for emotions. This was, at the time, in large measure due to an series of experiences we had while vacationing.
- While entering Provo Canyon on our way north this summer, I had a flash of memory, one I confirmed with my father later on. He was a great collector of butterflies, carefully pinning and displaying them in shadow boxes, occasionally selling them to collectors, but mostly just keeping them for his own enjoyment. We lived in the area when I was born until I was almost three. Sometime after I learned to walk and talk my dad took me with him on one of his lepidopteran excursions. He stopped to put gas in the car and bought me a whole roll of Sweettarts all my own. (It occurs to me that this experience impacted me so viscerally that when selecting a fragrance for my wedding I chose one that smelled just like Sweettarts) We drove up the canyon and and the green I could see from my non-boostered seat in the back shimmers with my recollections. My next clear sense of this trip is of me with my little net, a tiny bright pale blue butterfly hanging upside down from the gossamer webbing. Excited to see what would be added to the collection my dad hurried over. But I knew the fate that awaited that charming, fluttery friend. I didn’t want him to catch it and pin it down. I flipped the net so that the wind caught the butterflies wings and away it went. My dad was so angry. Why did I let it go, he asked again and again. I wanted it to be free and happy, just as I felt that day, wandering through the forest, searching for new friends.
2. My daughter rescued a butterfly from drowning in the lake. We had all been doing what summer elicits us to do and get out in the sun and the water. My sweet girl noticed its helpless wings soaked on the surface of the water. She tenderly lifted it and brought it back with careful steps. She showed me, crowing her rescue, and then asking if I thought it would be ok. As her papaw, the afore mentioned butterfly collector, was sitting nearby I suggested she take it to him. He examined it, noting that it’s wings were quite stuck together and saying that it needed to dry. Torn between the lure of the water and a desire to keep her special discovery safe, my daughter asked if Papaw would watch over it while she went back to play. He smilingly agreed, and sat patiently as the breeze off the lake slowly dried the butterfly’s wings. My daughter returned a few times to check on the progress, each time noting a new spot that seemed to be moving with a bit more freedom. The last time she came back, Papaw transferred the butterfly to her finger, where it fluttered its wings a few times and then took off. Hopefully away from the danger of the lake’s surface.
3. I sat at a light this morning, waiting for it to grant me passage back home from dropping off my son at school. A cheerful yellow specimen went winging pst my windshield, with direction of traffic, as if it too was on its morning commute. The jaunty cadence of its wings seemed to communicate a real desire to get wherever it was bound and a buoyant heart lifting it along.
Since composing my improvised butterfly metaphor a few weeks ago I have thought about it frequently.Each of the moments above reinforcing it for me personally.
Moments of delight and discovery can be so fleeting, so fragile, so rare that it can be tempting to hold on to them with a closed fist. To pin them up for everyone to see, not realizing that what we are presenting is in fact the hollow remains of true experience. Wonder should be followed by a sense of humility and a desire for its continuance, not its stultification.
Our friends need the freedom to come and go in our lives, no matter how much care and tenderness we put into the relationship. No matter how often we rescue them, or they rescue us, we still need the space to live life. Be it our children, parents, siblings, or spouses the surest sign of ministering efforts well made is whether or not they can fly on our their again.
We can choose to love life. To dance in our cars at the stop lights. To sing while we scrub kitchen floors. To find the fun, the interest, the fascination in work that feels like a grind.
As someone who struggles with depression– I mean really struggles, just to get out of bed sometimes– I hated it when people told me that happiness was a choice. It didn’t feel like a choice. The pain I suffered daily felt forced upon me as a kind of cruel joke, that no matter how many things I loved and was interested in, no matter how good my friends or my family, I was doomed to be overwhelmed by the darkness.
What I have learned since then (in therapy, in my loving relationship with my husband, in hard experience with my kids) is we can choose to be grateful for what is before us. We can find experiences to love and be contented by everyday, regardless of how difficult the business of living is. There are sunsets and sunrises to marvel at. There are babies to cuddle and count their perfect toes. There are joys to be sought as life-rafts in the deep.
Victor Frankl wrote of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
The presence of the fluttering loveliness that is a butterfly, lighting on one flower after another, opening and closing its wings in the morning sun to drive off the night’s damp, gives me a lift every time. I find myself elevated with its flight out of the places inside me that are cold and cynical, into a place that is brighter and more hopeful.
I treasure them. And today I can choose to let my memories, my experiences, my senses be sources of euphoria, no matter my situation.
See you on Friday.