I’m not sure I’ve ever talked about my love of butterflies on this blog before, but I have a lot of it. It began when I was a little girl—somehow, a butterfly fluttered into our screened-in porch, and I managed to catch it and was transfixed by it for a very long time. We have pictures from that day—of the little insect perched on my three-year-old hand—and while I’m pretty sure the poor thing didn’t make it (chubby toddler fingers and delicate wings are not the best combination), I was a butterfly lover from that moment on. I’ve just always thought they’re beautiful.
That love really didn’t resurface in any significant way, aside from general appreciation, until college, when I fell in love with one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories—”The Artist of the Beautiful”—and chose to write my senior thesis on it. The story is about a young artist, a watchmaker, who sets out to create a mechanical butterfly and bring it to life for the woman he’s in love with. It’s a touching story—here’s the full version, if you’d like to read it—and I had no problem filling up 20 pages with my thoughts and theories about it and its relationship to art and nature and science and beauty.
After that I didn’t think about butterflies and their symbolism for a long time—until two years ago, in fact, when my wonderful grandmother passed away. Funerals are never easy, of course, but as we all tearfully took our seats at the cemetery, I looked up to see a huge monarch butterfly hovering near the gravesite. That butterfly stayed exactly where it was for the whole burial service, fervently flapping its wings, almost like it was reassuring us that although we were so sad, there was still some beauty—some deeper meaning—to be found that day.
I think my grandmother would have liked that.
And from that moment on, butterflies, to me, became a symbol, a reminder, of my grandmother. It was like it had all come full circle. And I know part of this is because now I look for them more, but I swear I’ve seen more monarch butterflies in the past two years than I ever have before. They never fail to make me smile; when I see one, I like to think my grandmother’s checking in on me.
The reason I bring all this up—the reason butterflies have been on my mind—is because over Mother’s Day weekend, a monarch butterfly zipped around my parents’ front yard for almost two straight days. It was amazing. At one point, I went outside to watch it and it fluttered so close to me that I almost could have reached out and touched it (I didn’t; I’ve come a long way since I was three). Despite years of Catholic school and Sunday Mass, I’m not a religious person, but I do like the thought that something, some higher power or maybe someone we love who’s passed on, is watching over us.
Butterflies—with all their fragile beauty—remind me of that.