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.