Some people adopt cats, dogs, even snakes or ferrets. I adopt a butterfly.
It begins late afternoon, a gorgeous Indian Summer day in Norman, Oklahoma. The sun gets in my eyes. As I turn to step down heavily from the curb, I glimpse a disconcerting splotch of color: a living Monarch butterfly, wings slowly flexing, sitting upon an oil stain.
Kind soul that I am, I bend to free it from the tar pit, but coming closer I recognize the degree of his plight. “Oh, no wonder.” A break in the leading edge its left forewing leaves it shredding and useless for flight. “He’s not going anywhere.”
I want to move it to a safer place, away from crushing wheels or heels, but as I look around, I see no place suitable to place him. He puts up little resistance as I carefully scoop him up onto my index finger. I imagine he was hit by a car and flung by the force of wind to this very spot. Legs collapsed on his left side, both antennae gone, I’m thinking, “this is one ******-up butterfly!
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It is getting late, and now with this oddly fascinating creature clinging tightly to my finger, I have no choice but to take him home with me. Butterfly and I take the wheel and together we drive to my abode.
Upon arrival, I gently pry him loose onto a few colorful blossoms outside my front door. He seems unimpressed, but I leave him to his own devices so that I can go online and ask Dr. Google about butterfly repair. I am overjoyed to discover the website www.livemonarch.com, which has a complete step by step video of repairing a Monarch butterfly’s wing. I am totally stoked!
I set myself to the task of repairing his wing, in hopes he will regain flight like the butterflies in the video. The website says, “Restrain the patient: no fluttering!” They show how, contrary to popular wisdom, grabbing a butterfly by its folded wings will not impede their capacity for flight, and so I become much more comfortable in my handling of him.
The procedure is fairly straightforward: glue a tiny cardboard patch over the damaged area of wing. I concur with the website about the relative strength of those wing muscles! The little beastie is quite strong, and I take care not to harm him, using a wire coat-hanger bent into a loop slightly larger than his body-core to pin him down.
The break is a simple fracture, so I simply line up the parts of the wing, carefully press the patch down, and give it time to set. Once dry, the patch allows him to flap without continuing to shred the wing.
Post-surgery, I place him in a small, empty fish-tank lined with a green towel and placed with rocks and crystals, a bowl of water and his favorite foods inside with him. Then, I put the whole thing in the window so he can see the sky, though I must cover it to prevent my ferocious feline Kokopelli from gaining access.
As he recovers, I notice what might best be termed a unique and expansive spirit. One night I keep him with me on my finger as Dara and I sit together watching TV. At first, she thought I was simply obsessing over some little insect, but as we all spend several hours together, she begins to appreciate the presence and personality of this winged creature. I christen him Maurice, to befit his diminutive grandeur.
The differences between us are vast, and so I must adjust my presence of mind and calibrate my strength to new levels of sensitivity. So delicate and beautiful, I cannot get enough of looking at and being with this amazingly luxurious living fashion statement.
He has gotten used to me now, more-or-less surrendering to my insistent ministering. The first time I try to feed him, I hold a gigantic spoon up to his tiny face, plying him like a stubborn child. Finally, he unfurls his curly proboscis, and begins to explore my offering. Surprise! He likes it. I love watching him eat, though I feel a like a drug pusher introducing him to the powerful sweetness of cane sugar and watermelon. I hold the spoon for my little friend until he is satiated. After our feeding sessions, he tends to becomes quite frisky!
Butterflies have no mouth, nor teeth, nor jaw with which to bite. Butterflies are utterly incapable of inflicting injury. They are ahimsa, harmless creatures, perfect vegetarians, consuming only the purest liquid in the form of flower nectar.
I take him outside and hold him above me. “Fly free little one, if you can.” But though my clumsy wing repair is relatively successful, he never again takes to the skies. He only clings to my finger with his signature tilted stance. I sense that he somehow realizes he will not be rejoining the Great Migration. Like a proud war veteran shipped home, lost to purpose and ruined in body, this indomitable spirit is crestfallen.
Maurice survived the shock and trauma of a severe impact, but his injuries go deeper than the visible. Without antennae, he is functionally blind with regard to flight. Bereft of these amazingly sensitive organs, butterflies become disoriented and lose their sense of direction.
By the fifth day, he is getting weaker, refusing all food, signaling immanent release from his magnificent though damaged form. I place him before me as I work on my computer, so I can be with him to the end. His breath slows, and his wings, which until now he has kept carefully folded up behind, begin to relax, gradually dropping down in open, symmetrical display, like a broad cape laid low across a performance stage floor.
My mind slows to keep pace with the speed of flesh. A dying butterfly’s slowing pulse commits mute testimony to the compelling force of our common agreement: to stay but for a time within these shells of matter. There are no hiding places, no avoiding this. Only understanding may be borne from the depths of suffering.
At a point which precisely I do not mark, the spirit of Maurice peacefully departs his mortal frame. An essential element is gone, and while still beautiful, the abandoned form of the Monarch Butterfly once known as Maurice now lies in state: empty, dry and still.
As nothing is truly random or wasted in this universe, I wonder at a larger purpose served by such peaceful close encounters between alien creatures. “Poisonous if eaten,” the websites say. Monarchs are not an element of our food chain meriting attention. Human love of the gorgeously proportioned symmetries of the butterfly represents no particular evolutionary advantage for us. There seems no benefit to this attraction, and I can scarcely imagine what little use we offer them. So why the attraction?
I will not presume to speak for the butterfly. But there is certainly something in the innately Human capacity to appreciate beauty and symmetry in nature … something wherein our own deeper being is touched and awakened. It is through our relationship with all things great and small that we find our own reflection, in part and in whole. The movement-response within the heart is that of our own spirit growing and evolving;
And this may be the only real purpose of life, after all.
Perhaps we are all magnificent, yet lack frame of reference from which to appreciate the fact. Perhaps, from the perspective of a higher-ordered consciousness, humans are beautiful in ways we simply have not the ability to perceive.
I imagine Monarchs regard themselves as quite ordinary. However, I believe Maurice knew just how wonderful he was. My time with this living being has reshaped my self-awareness to distinctive dimensions, a new and unique view of the world – a Universe communique – transmission through the form of a lonely, injured Monarch.
This post is derived from an essay submitted for publication in Absolute 11 – Poetry, Fiction Nonfiction, Artwork, Photography – a publication of the Arts and Humanities Division of Oklahoma City Community College. While the article itself was not selected, the adjacent photograph by the author appears as both a featured image and is also used as the section divider in the 2011 issue. My thanks to Prof. M. McCauley for all of her inspiration!
Soul of a Butterfly by Richard S. Auer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.gaia9.com.