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.

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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.