Sometime You Have To Take Lessons From Beautiful Insects
Mothering an injured butterfly
I suppose it was fitting that we found the butterfly we came to call Flit the same week that John F Kennedy, Jr. met his untimely demise. I watched Tiffany, just turned 11, as she ran along the block to decorate every single tree and signpost with a yellow ribbon, and I wondered now that I'm over 40 if I would ever again know such unbridled optimism. And then that beautiful butterfly, an art class subject waiting to happen, came into our lives.
It was Marie who found him (or her; how does one determine the sex of a butterfly?) on our way to camp. Marie screamed, and I looked down and saw this butterfly, stricken, unable to fly. Yet whatever had broken its wing had not managed to break its spirit. Like my children, hope personified, it hopped along the sidewalk, stopping to try its wings every few paces. I promised if it was still there after I'd dropped the little ones off, I would take care of it.
The butterfly waited for me. So, I transferred my drug store purchases to my pockets, gently pinched those delicate yellow wings together, and dropped the butterfly into my plastic shopping bag. The whole way home I kept shaking the bag, to make sure the butterfly was still moving. And I talked to it, too, as if it could understand my gentle encouragement.
Nurturing the patient
Safely home, I transferred the butterfly to a plastic pitcher, and prepared a snack of honey and water. That idea came from somewhere in my store of childhood memories of animal rescue, which included the time my sister "The Future Veterinarian" and I kept a bald sparrow chick alive for three weeks.
The butterfly seemed to like its nourishment, and perked up. Balancing its handicap with the bottle cap I'd provided as a dish, it began to flit its wings again; thus its new name Flit. The only one home to approve that name was the dog, who wondered just what it was I kept talking to in that voice usually reserved for her.
Flit brought such joy and beauty to us in its short time, and gave us other lessons, too. My daughters forgot to whine and dawdle, racing home to tend to their patient. They tried to nurture it and make it comfortable. They found selections from the garden to brighten Flit's world. Most of all, they forgot to compete for attention, instead sharing in the feedings and check-ups.
When Flit began to falter, Tiffany sought advice. We were told to poke it in the eye and put it out of its misery. "No way," shouted Melissa, age six. I agreed. Would I tell my neighbor, whose husband is suffering from the progression of Parkinson's disease, to shoot him in the head?
The four of us reached a decision: we would return Flit to the wild, and let nature take its proverbial course. We propped Flit up on a branch of the bush in front of our home, adding one of the buds from its cage. We watched that butterfly till the sun went down, sniveling, sending out silent prayers.
Important life lessons
I think the most precious lesson was one I learned from Tiffany, watching her console five-year-old Marie. Flit will always be with you. "Here, and here," she intoned, gesturing repeatedly at her mind and heart. Marie copied her, her little hand clutching at her stomach.
In the morning, when I went to walk the dog, I found Flit still. I knew Ihad to tell the children, even though it would be painful. Then I cried for the first time myself, a little after the fact, just as I had in the car on the way home from the movie Love Story years ago.
I observed with marvel the girls' burial ritual, an eerie emulation of funerals they'd never even attended. Each child extended a blade of grass towards the grave, said their special goodbye, and placed it atop the dirt mound. Later, Tiffany fashioned a necklace that read Flit Lover out of her new hair beading kit, and gave it to Marie.
I'm not sure which of us had grown more from that experience: my daughters, learning to be responsible, to nurture, to love, and to lose; or myself, once again believing in possibility unfettered by realism. All I know is that trying to heal the butterfly healed something inside each of us.