The first time I showed her the painting of her dress we were at Barnes and Noble in St. Cloud. It was half the driving distance for each of us. Just an hour difference, but so necessary. This excitement that was bursting inside of me – a heart trying to contain a mass of butterflies – I just couldn’t hold back for that extra hour. And neither could she. We ordered our lattes. Found our table. And I ran out to the car and dragged the four foot painting inside. If people stared, it was probably due more to the butterflies than the painting. Our joy was palpable, and not to be contained.
When I walk up the stairs in our house, I pass her picture and there is a swelling, an ache, in my heart. I do yoga in the bedroom. The third pose turns my head toward her image on the dresser, and my there is my heart again. Sitting at my computer, typing these words, her dress hangs on the wall. My heart. For months after her passing, I would have called this pain. But it occurred to me this morning, sitting by her painting, I can still smell the coffee from the Starbuck’s counter at Barnes and Noble. It’s so strong, I’m waiting for the barista to call my name. I hear my mom’s laughter. Touch her purse with the side of my foot. Marvel at the crisp white of her blouse. As my heart sends those twinges, those heart swellings to my brain, I think this is not pain, these are the butterflies. This is love. This is joy.
I have been following the book bannings in the US — particularly one ruling in Florida – something about banning anything that made people “uncomfortable.” What a ridiculous notion. Not to mention impossible. I don’t want to live in that world. How would we learn anything? How would we grow? How would we even love? Yes, my heart may ache, but I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I want to feel the discomfort of every butterfly. The glorious discomfort of change, growth, of life itself. This is nothing to be feared — and I almost said “but embraced” here – but really, not even embraced, for butterflies as you know will never be contained. They can only be released.
I sit, books surrounding me. The scent of coffee in the air. The sound of my mother’s joy. This is love, I tell my heart, and run along in its flutter.
As someone who grew up in the ice and snow of a Minnesota winter, I consider myself a bit of an expert, but through the years I have found nothing to be as slippery as old habit.
I decided to take a new path yesterday. I turned left instead of right out of our driveway. Across the bridge then towards the city. Cars raced past me. It was louder. The sidewalk seemed a little harder. Maybe I should just turn back, I thought. But I kept going. Turned to go down the embankment. I could hear the sound of the river. Bienvenue, it rolled. The ground softened. The colors brightened. I stopped thinking and started looking. Flowers were new. Listening. Two young girls giggled as they waded in the sea of white flowers. It’s hard not to smile when you hear giggling. And soon everything seemed to be — the water, the trees, the fountain, the birds — they were all in on it…
There are days, I must admit, when my brain wanders down a negative path. And it knows the way. So easily it can slide. And replay the tapes of negativity. Over and over. Step after slippery step. I’m getting better at catching it – before I slide too far. I really have to take a sharp turn to a new thought. And it can be as simple as changing rooms. Reading a book in a new chair. Going outside. Turning left.
As uncomfortable as change can be, it may also be the gift we are looking for. The gift we can’t seem to find sliding down the same old path. A butterfly kissed my cheek just before arriving back home. I get it. The universe wants us to be happy!
Some might lose their way today. If you’re able, be the giggle that walks beside, then leads them home.
I was more following it, than chasing it. Fluttering really. Doing my best to keep up. My grandfather didn’t really imagine that I could catch this butterfly, so his warning was light, but effective. “Don’t touch the wings,” he said. Me, still imagining my chubby legs were a match for these wings, questioned, “But why? They’re so pretty!’ He explained something about the powder rubbing off…they could lose their ability to fly. “You don’t want that to happen,” he said. Of course not. But just a bit of that desire remained. A bit of that doubt.
I didn’t have google at the time. Nothing to fact check. He had never lied to me. So I just kept fluttering.
When I reached school age, I learned more. The challenge of the caterpillar to “become.” It seemed unimaginable. Unbelievable! How did it survive — and not just survive, but turn into something so incredibly beautiful? I read it in books. Saw the images. But really? How could this be?
I counted the sleeping pills on my mother’s nightstand. She was so sad. I didn’t know how long a human could cocoon. Nobody taught me that.
But somehow, there would be proof in her wings. And I got to flutter beside her. And she beside me. Nothing more magical than that.
The fragile colors came to life in my sketchbook yesterday. Each with a hope and prayer that we could all be that gentle with one another. We could flutter, and flatter, and lift, and love. We could give each other the time needed to change. To grow. To become. We could give each other the chance to fly — just a smiling thought this morning, as I flutter by.
I saw him fluttering there, in the pool. Wings wet, almost unflappable. Butterflies weren’t meant to swim I guess.
I have loved them since kindergarten — since Mrs. Strand told us how they got their name. She helped us cut wings out of construction paper. Fold the edges. Glue them onto sticks. And when you rolled the stick between your sweaty, glue-stained fingers, the flaps fluttered. We laughed and marched around the classroom, wings almost lifting us off the ground. “That’s how they got their name, you see…doing just what you did.” We stopped and looked at her. “You fluttered by.” She continued, “Somewhere along the way, someone decided it was easier to say butterfly — easier than flutterby — and the name stuck.”
I have no idea if this is true. And I will not google it, because I like it being true, in my memory, and in my heart. So I will save this story. It will forever live with me.
So yesterday, when I saw him just barely fluttering, and not fluttering by, I tried to help. I got the net and lifted him out of the pool, onto the grass. He continued to flutter, but still not by. I began swimming laps, soon to find my little friend once again in the pool. I repeated the rescue. When I finished swimming, I checked and he was gone. I don’t know that it’s true, but in my heart he is now somewhere, fluttering by.
It’s the stories we tell ourselves that save us. Some created, slightly adapted, molded with time, and experience, but they are forever real. And that’s the beauty, I suppose, this deciding which ones to carry, which ones to let go. Some will try to form you – in the worst ways – and they can be hard to abandon. But when you do, if you can, make room for the kind memories, the loving ones, oh, how light your heart can be, so light, it may even lift you. Choose these. Carry these. Forever, together, let’s flutter by.
I woke up to another 5-star review on my Etsy page. She said my painting “was her very favorite in her whole house!” Just a few words strung together, but they fit perfectly into my heart and filled it!
It’s amazing what we can do for each other. Just the tiniest bits of kindness. Humanity. It’s so contagious. I give you a piece of my heart. You pass it along to someone else. It flutters and flies and fills the air.
Some will call it the butterfly effect — how the simple flapping wings of butterflies in India can change the weather in Iowa. I am not a scientist, but I have seen this play out with humans. I have seen the flapping of kindness change the behavior of many. I have seen the soaring effects, the light and airy beauty of it all. And I want to be a part of it. A part of the beauty. Of the changes.
Today, can we let go of all the things that are weighing us down? The weapons of bigotry, and hate. Fear and anger. Can we just let them go and fly? Oh, how I hope so! Let’s fill the sky. We can be the change.
I’ll see you up there!