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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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.