Notice the Butterflies

I open with an excerpt from the diary of Greg Pettus:

“August 26th, 2005,

             Have you ever heard the birds’ song on an early summer morn’?

             They sing softly the songs of life and of matters of the heart.”

How does one even begin to sum up on of the kindest, wisest, and most generous man to have ever walked this earth?

There is no eloquently summing up his essence, I’m afraid. To do so would be to neglect something.

It seems like there are now words of high enough caliber to adequately describe my grandfather. I mean, yes, I could say that he was paradoxical, enigmatic, patient, selfless, etc. And yes, those things are all true. However, in the end they’re just words; flimsy and transparent.

Grandaddy was never one to rely too much on words anyway. He rarely spoke, but he rarely needed to. His actions told you more about him than his words ever could.

I could tell you he was a humble and spiritual man, or I could tell you how all of his sermons were delivered barefoot, and how he always took off his shoes before he got up on stage to deliver his message on Sunday mornings.

I could tell you he was generous and considerate, or I could tell you how there was always an abundance of baked goods lining our kitchen counters, because whenever someone couldn’t afford for Grandaddy to come out and fix their plumbing, he did it anyway, and just told them “You know what? Why don’t you bake me a cake and we’ll call it even?”

I could tell you of his outstanding determination, or I could just instead describe how his strong hands were rugged and calloused and told stories of years of hard labor and struggle, yet you’d never find yourself in an embrace more gentle or soft.

Grandaddy always made a point to live deliberately and profoundly, for “we are made from dust and to dust we shall return,” he’d always say.

And my grandfather always had this thing with butterflies.

Whenever springtime rolled around in my town, he would always take me to the park when the weather was nice….which, where we lived, was pretty much everyday.

Now, I may have only been about six or seven at the time, but I distinctly remember how every time on the ride home, he would ask me “Taylor, did you notice the butterflies today?”

And I would always nod vigorously and respond “Yes sir, I noticed the butterflies today” before inevitably bursting into a fit of girlish giggles. It was just a sill little game of ours in my eyes, and I never really questioned it.

I just thought my grandfather really loved butterflies.

So when I found him one day quietly weeping beside a fallen Monarch, I didn’t think it was too strange. I just sat beside him and stayed still until his initial wave of grief subsided.

After a few minutes, Grandaddy wiped his eyes and slowly stood up. He bent down and tenderly scooped up his comrade like as if he were handling some sacred relic, and I”ll always remember how he gazed at it with such an odd combination of sadness and dignified stoicism.

After that, he told me to fetch his Bible off the nightstand and to meet him at the Dogwood tree in the front yard. Once I returned, he gently placed the butterfly in this little niche in the tree, and then continued on to read aloud the 23rd Psalm. No sooner had the words left his mouth he began to sing the first verse of “Amazing Grace” in a key graciously low enough to where I could sing too. When we finished, Grandaddy pointed to a little brass bell that was tied on one of the branches and told me to “Ring the bell so God knows to let him in.” So, with this soft, gentle chiming of this bell we concluded our funeral service for this Monarch, and we did this every time we happened upon a fallen butterfly.

I think my grandfather did this because he felt that something so heartbreakingly beautiful and delicate should never go unnoticed or unappreciated. To him, butterflies were sacred and holy, and embodied those who were beautiful and regal in the purest sense, but who were also incredibly delicate and vulnerable. It was a wonder how they manage to survive at all.

My grandfather, as I’ve grown to realize, was a butterfly himself. And, come to find out, there are butterflies everywhere. They come in all kinds of colors and sizes. Yet at the core they are all amazing, beautiful people who, for whatever reason, find themselves suddenly vulnerable and fragile, like a child.

Please, take time to notice the butterflies in your life. I guarantee you, they’re there.

Acknowledge them.

Appreciate them.

Learn from them.

Protect them.

Make sure they’re okay.

Because you never know when they’re not.


Arm Yourself With Love

Watching the news nowadays has really morphed into quite the traumatic experience. Wherever we turn, we are inundated with images of the darker side of humanity that nobody likes to make eye-contact with: Modern day lynchings, the manipulation of an otherwise beautiful faith to justify the unjustifiable, and a global audience who refuses to act unless it is profitable for them to do so.

These atrocities, so dreadful in nature and absurd in number, have unfortunately lost their shock value and have become commonplace.

I dream, of course, of the absence of such depravity, perhaps in vain.

But one can’t help but wonder: How on Earth did we let it get to this point? Why has such violence remained so central to our global infrastructure?

The human race is supposed to be this sparkling result of millions of years of evolution, yet we as a civilization still adhere to fiercely to that old adage of fighting fire with fire.

Now, I’m no scientist, but I’m fairly certain that fighting fire with fire does nothing to reduce the size of the fire. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it only produces a bigger fire. Which, of course, only necessitates more fire to put it out.

Violence and aggression often work this way, on any level, whether it be a family rivalry or a world war. Our gut instinct is to react to bitterness and aggression with bitterness and aggression which, no surprise, only results in more bitterness and aggression.

What we often fail to realize is that, most of the time, bitterness and aggression spawn from one of two places: fear or pain. We are still very much like our ancestors in this aspect: an animal, when cornered, is prone to lashing out. Most of the time it means no ill will, and the creature is only concerned with self-preservation.

So, then, shouldn’t we reconsider our response to such hostility? I’m not the first person to ask this question.

In fact, a large part of Martin Luther King’s legacy is centered around his preachings on the futility of violence and the poignancy of meeting aggression with love. He often thought of his approach as a type of armor, saying that “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”

Now, that’s a lovely sentiment and all, and I’m sure it would go wonderfully in a Hallmark card, or in a fortune cookie. But, make no mistake, Martin Luther King’s words are not only thought-provoking and touching, but they are incredibly effective in practice as well.

With this philosophy, Martin Luther King flourished, and led the African-American Community to victory during the Civil Rights Movement. It was this philosophy that allowed Mahatma Gandhi to lead the Indians towards independence from Imperial England. This philosophy enabled Mother Teresa to reach millions of people through her mission in Calcutta. It really is amazing what a little compassion and understanding can do.

Yet, we still insist on resorting to violence to solve our problems. And look where that’s gotten us.

In times like this, I often ponder the words of the great Eleanor Roosevelt. She asked: “When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?”

I can only hope that this will be the generation that can scrounge together enough courage to say: enough is enough.

Hurt people hurt people. That’s how pain patterns get passed on, generation after generation. It is up to us to break the chain today.

So, my challenge to you, and myself, is this: To meet anger with sympathy, cruelty with kindness, and contempt with compassion. Greet grimaces with a smile. Forgive and forget about finding fault and seeking revenge. And in whatever adversity you man face, may your wisdom be you armor, and your compassion be your sword. For it is love, not hate, that is the weapon of the future.

What Good Amid These?

“O me! O life! Of the questions of these recurring:

of the endless trains of the faithless,

of cities fill’d with the foolish,

of myself forever reproaching myself (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?).

What good amid these? O me! O life!

The answer:

That you are here, that life exists, and identity.

That the powerful play goes on,

And you may contribute a verse.”

I can write an essay on pretty much any academic topic you could conjure up, but, ask me to write a piece on myself, I get stuck. Leave it to me to unnecessarily overcomplicate the easiest topic in the world.

And I guess this is because of a number of reasons. I’m only 17, after all. At this point in my life, my personality hasn’t quite set yet. On any given day, I wear several different “hats”. Some days I feel like a cynical 45-year-old, middle aged corporate pawn. Other days I feel like a peaceful 80-year-old woman, nodding in acceptance after coming to terms with her reality. Some days, I’m a Pinterest-scouring, Martha-Stewart-channeling domestic housewife. So you see, I’m still trying to develop the concept of who I am. Who knows, maybe I’m all of these things. Maybe I’ll conclude one day that I’m none of these things.

But, I guess I could give it a try anyways:

My name, in all of its two-syllable glory, is Taylor. I was born on March 11th, 1997 in Birmingham, Alabama, where I was raised. I’m a Pisces. I’m a sister. I’m a daughter. I’m a student.

Like many, I love learning but I hate school.

Like many, I believe my taste in music is far superior to anyone else’s.

Like many, my life has been a bittersweet cocktail made up of equal parts triumph and tragedy.

I’m not dismissing the triumphs, because they are really marvelous and should never be taken for granted. Nor am I implying that we are victims or that we are what has happened to us. I’m simply saying that sometimes, whether we like it or not, the tragic parts in our lives have a massive impact on who we are. And that’s okay. It took me a long time to realize that.

When I was eight years old, I was watching That’s So Raven in the living room when I heard the gun go off in the bedroom across the hall, and the frantic screaming that ensued. I had misheard my mother at first when she screamed “Daddy shot himself in the head.” My grandfather, who had suffered from schizoaffective disorder his whole life, had decided to put an end to his life.

There’s a weird kind of grief and searing hollowness that follows a suicide. It feels “up in the air”, it lacks closure. There’s no peace. Everything feels sort of in limbo. It’s the most devastating of deaths because it leaves such damage behind. I don’t think my grandfather ever really understood how much he was needed and loved and cherished.
Unfortunately, his passing was only my first encounter with the effects of mental illness. My mother has PTSD, OCD, and a Panic Disorder as a result of that day. My Aunt struggles with bulimia in her late 40s. My best friend tried to take her own life my sophomore year. In my junior year, she succeeded.

It just seems like mental illness is one of the recurring themes in my life story. I can’t necessarily get away from it, and believe me I don’t go seeking it out. I think it was just the hand I was given.

So: “What good amid these? O me! O life!”

The answer?:

My story has molded me into who I am today:

It’s the reason why my motto is “If you need anything, let me know.”

It’s the reason why I try so hard to get people to smile.

It’s the reason why I pass out compliments like candy (although I always keep actual candy on hand just in case someone has a bad day).

It’s the reason why I never hesitate to tell someone that I love them and that I’m here for them.

It’s the reason why I listen so intently.

It’s the reason why I so fervently try to help others realize how important and cherished they are.

If my life up to this point has taught me anything, it’s taught me compassion and the priceless value of a human life.

And, it’s taught me just how blessed I really am.

A response to the notion that: “2am’s were made for poets, lovers, writers, visionaries, thinkers, etc.”

And here I am thinking that I, too, would be welcome among the other 2am dwellers. That I, too, would be privy to the rejuvenating reservoir frequented by poets, lovers, and thinkers in this twilight hour.

‘Twas so absurd to believe that I’d reap the same reward of those risen, sodden, out of the deep river valley when I’d just arrived at its mountaintop spring.

And now that I am here…

I must say, the appeal of taking such measures is beyond me. No, the altitude does nothing to revitalize my maladjusted lungs, and the darkness renders me unable to determine a hawk from a handsaw. I can’t see anything.

Inspiration is a fickle friend (or foe), you see, and rituals such as these make an amusing mockery of her elusive spirit. And while I’ve rarely been graced with her presence, I know her well enough to at least know that, in her eyes, anything less than serendipity is satire. Surely she’d side with me in saying that abstinence will in no way entitle you to her blessing. In fact, perhaps your strict adherence to such hackneyed superstition would offend her so greatly that she’d consider eternal abstinence from granting you favor.

And if so, suffice to say, you’d never hear the first breath of objection from me.

So who, then, is really worse off? Those who continually try and fail or those burdened with false confidence? The answer, I now know, is irrelevant. The same fate, for better or worse, awaits us all.

A Statement Hardly Profound But Just As Significant.

Millions and millions of thoughts run through the mind daily as a gigantic domino chain– one thought leaning into another until the end of this train is reached and another begins at the surface of slumber. But sometimes, you encounter a thought that comes out of the blue. These thoughts act as epiphanies, moments of pleasant clarity. But not always. Sometimes, like the one I encounter on days like today, they hit you brutally like a knockout punch to the chest. It knocks the wind out of you so suddenly, so overwhelmingly, you can’t find air to breathe. And that’s exactly what happened to me this evening, in and amongst the bustling of the early holiday season in Disney World. Dodging in between squealing children and the parents desperately chasing them, I was hit.
I thought I got over you, but clearly my assumptions were incorrect.
Because I miss the hell out of you.
I do.

The Day I Discovered That I Was Different Pt.1

When I was eleven, I discovered that I was “different”, and that “different” was apparently an appalling thing to be.

That was the year my size ballooned like a marshmallow in a microwave, topping out at 220 lbs. I wore a size sixteen in jeans, and I wasn’t able to shop in the junior’s section because I was simple too large. And with a loving mother and a family who believed that I was still holding onto my nearly 100 lbs of “baby fat”, I never necessarily disliked myself. I was ignorant to the upturned noses of the department store employees or waitresses or peers, simply unaware of not only the discomfort but the disgust my sheer presence brought to them. Really. Yeah, I knew I was big, but I had never given it much thought beyond that. As far as I was concerned, life was pretty damn good. I had not a care in the world. In fact, I prided myself on being “big, blonde, and beautiful“, preaching everywhere I went on how “inner beauty” was invincible and trumped all! Well, it turns out that I never knew the profound weight of my words, but I did later discover that while I was ignorant to others’ displeasure, I was by no means immune.

Unfortunately, that all changed in 7th grade. Thanks to my good ol’ buddies at school, that was also the year I discovered that I was fat. And ugly. And gross. And in retrospect, it’s rather difficult to put words to the overwhelming humiliation I was put through. Perhaps it’s because I’m lacking in writing ability, which is definitely possible. Maybe, and more than likely, it’s because my mind has repressed these memories in fear that, if reminisced upon, a side of me that has been locked up for years now will be released and given free reign to torment me into ultimate submission. The most poignant memories, however, I have never forgotten. No, I have never for one nanosecond forgotten the most belittling and disastrous of them all, and unfortunately, they’ve never benevolently forgotten about me either.  They never did let me forget what it was like to be “the fat girl” in middle school.

I remember.

Guys and girls from all grade levels mooed at me in the hallways, or when I got up to turn a paper in during class. Mooed, since I was a cow, get it? They were too clever, those little rascals.

I was tripped on the way back to the locker rooms after P.E., then laughed at because I made it “earthquake.” Original, that line was.

One gentleman even snickered during class one day,”Dang, two of me could fit into only one of her, easily.” His name was Nathaniel and he was blonde, one of two identical twins. To this day he doesn’t know what wildfire he sparked. I think we’re actually friends on Facebook.

Needless to say, I fell apart. Not all at once though, not like the Twin Towers, but more like my pseudo-self-confidence eroded over time. A Grand Canyon of sorts slowly formed in my mind, with plunging chasms like deep scars on my psyche. Each and every day I went home a little more crestfallen, my world a little bit darker, my spirit dimmer and dimmer. The change was so subtle and gradual that nobody noticed the shift in my demeanor, and I was completely and totally okay with that. Over time I let myself get dangerously low, sinking deeper into this comfortable sadness that swaddled and suffocated me like a woolen blanket. And as the months passed by I retreated further and further into myself, and while I was physically present at home and at school, I most certainly was not “there.”  My conversations became so mundane and generic, and I guess nobody noticed they were on a loop. I was in survival mode, you see. I was only ever concerned with making it through the day. Miserable. Desolate. Volatile. And this was only the first year. For three years I would suffer the consequences of someone’s careless actions.

I was only eleven years old.

Dustin Hoffman Breaks Down Crying Explaining What He Learned About Being A Woman During ‘Tootsie’

Still, even in and among all of these “love yourself” movements, we are still being categorized and, for many, dismissed because of our less-than-stellar physique. Dustin Hoffman hits the nail right on the head. Definitely worth a look.

Thought Catalog

In this beautiful clip, spotted at Upworthy, Dustin Hoffman explains what he learned from becoming a woman for his role in ‘Tootsie’ and breaks down crying in the process. Very moving. [tc-mark]

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video – AFI

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