The Butterfly Effect

Butterflies can intercept radio waves. Back when cars had antennas, you could see it happen. Butterflies would land on the antenna’s round, metal end cap and, through this contact, they became winged receivers. Then it was easy. They had two antennae with which to capture waves. And you could tell when they’d caught the signal, because they would wiggle from the tickle of vibrating electrons and electricity would sparkle at the edges of their wings.

At least that’s how the six-year-old version of my mind interpreted it. And with this information, I decided that I, too, could be a receiver. My index finger made the perfect antenna when I held it up straight into the air. And when I practiced the still highly debatable virtue of patience and ignored the itch of my nose or the pressure in my bladder, the butterflies would land on my antenna and capture waves for me. The tickle of their feet as they tasted the oils on my finger pad made me wiggle, and I felt the arc of electricity as it made a connection between the lives of two very different creatures. Life threw sparks at the tips of my fingers.

A few years later, my Aunt Patsy would surprise me again with her estimate of my maturity and would give me a book that would plumb my understanding of life. I Never Saw Another Butterfly is a collection of writings and drawings by the children who passed through the Terezin ghetto on their way to Nazi death camps. With their concrete minds, they became the antennas of the camp, capturing the signals of atrocity and transcribing them into pictures and poems. But, with a duality singular among children, their minds also escaped the camp to run through the flowers that carpeted distant rolling hills and chased the sparkling contrails of butterflies that flittered through the bleached branches of the trees that peeked over the walls. In 1942, Pavel Friedmann saw his last butterfly. He wrote:

For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.

That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
in the ghetto.

By the end of 1944, he was dead.

15,000 children floated through Terezin. Only 100 made it back. I figured he must have been listening to some signal of hope transmitted through the fluttering of butterflies. A minor perturbation in the philosophy of evil caused by a single flap of iridescent wings. But when the butterflies disappeared, all reception was lost.

Many years later I would be quietly sitting with my mother, watching the pigeons and jays bicker over a pile of black oil sunflower seeds outside the multi-paned picture window of the den. For long moments, I watched my mother disappear instead. Motionless, emotionless; becoming more and more imprisoned by the vicissitudes of a depressive state that I wouldn’t fully understand until over a decade later, working as a mental health nurse 800 miles away. Then a flash of yellow mirrored by a flashing smile as a butterfly danced across our view and then floated out of view. “There goes my girl!” she would say, claiming she communicated with me through butterflies when I was away. Like Morse code tapped out through flapping wings.

My mother died suddenly of an aneurysm a short time later. Now, when I see a butterfly, I can’t help but see her. And I wonder if she landed on my outstretched index finger if I could tell her, through wiggling electrons and sparks of electricity, that I finally understand.

_________

The other day, I saw the first butterfly of Spring. A male Queen basking in the warmth of an afternoon sun. Wiggling on a blade of grass. Calculating all the permutations of life with each beat of his wings.

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_______________

Here’s to life, in all of its flitterings and flutterings.

© 2019 Lindsay Sears @ soanuthatch.com All Rights Reserved

20 thoughts on “The Butterfly Effect

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  1. This is a beautiful thing you have done here- tragic, funny, creative, honest. It is a deeply moving work of art I think. And to be uplifting too? Brilliant. And lest I not mention the gorgeous the butterfly images..I love this.

  2. Crazy thing is the title of your post brought me right to my mother – because she used to give people copies of this little book – some short version of the Butter Fly effect – and the title primed me
    – to
    Then come upon the part about your mom – I felt a connection -((sorry about her loss)) and how fun to have that butterfly memory connected with her – and then seeing the first one of spring – the photos are beautiful

    1. He was a beautiful butterfly. I felt like he was on the cat walk. He kept turning and flapping and posing. Lol. And it amazes me how tiny bits of Nature can evoke so many memories in people or symbolize so many things, and how neat it is to find connections. Thank you. 😊

  3. Oh my gosh… I had shivers when I read about the concentration camp, but tears when I read about your mother. This is so, so beautiful. Thank you for sharing <3

  4. I’ve had your butterflies opened for two days and now have finally read it. I will never look at the butterfly the same way. Beautiful, all you say. Your writing seems so effortless and flows so well. I didn’t know that you were working with people with depression. Could not have been easy. Thank you for these lovely creatures!

    1. Hey Manja! Thanks for the visit! As you know depression can be a beast. But I actually enjoyed my work. I saw a lot of strength and resilience and growth that I found quite inspiring. And yes, that little Queen was a true beauty! Thank you for having a read!! And for the lovely comment!

  5. It’s hard to know how to respond to such a beautiful post Lindsay – it was funny, sad and heart-wrenching all at once.
    There is a folk tradition over here about butterflies being the spirits of our departed, and one found in the house is someone we once loved coming back to met us (Or something like that – Alli would know). As your home is nature now, and this is were youhad your encounter – you never know.
    Stunning photo’s as always!

  6. Hi Lindsay, Stuart has just told me about your beautiful butterfly post because it didn’t appear either in my email list or my Reader. So I’m sorry it’s taken him to tell me about it for me to read your amazing post. Honestly, I read it choking back the tears as I learned about those poor kids in Terezin, unbearably heartbreaking. And then your mother, such a touching story, and again my eyes stung with tears. It reminds me a bit of my dad who died in 2012, and I’ve had a few butterfly experiences like that. Our daughter is a very sensitive and special soul, much misunderstood by most of her generation because she’s quiet and different (she wants to be a maritime historian, and I’m massively proud of that – she’s following my lead but has found her own niche). But she’s the kindest of kind people, she adores all animals, and I’ve noticed that she’s the one that a butterfly will land on every time. It happened in Savernake when we were there for the post I did on the ‘wooded footsteps’. I think these special creatures’ antennae may pick up on more than we know. And I didn’t know either that you had worked with people with depression. That must have been both difficult and rewarding, and I admire you profoundly for that and all you do. Stuart has just tried – unsuccessfully! – to let you know that we do, in fact, have a tradition over here that if a butterfly flies into the room you’re in, it’s the spirit of someone you loved who has passed on. It happened on our wedding day – 15th November (yes, that late in the year!) in a small medieval manor house which was George Washington’s ancestral home. We were just about to get married in the dinky ‘great hall’ by an open fire. I think the butterfly visitor was probably my grandmother giving us her blessing. Such a moving and exquisitely written post, Lindsay, with your usual stunning photographs, and I’m sending you big hugs across the pond!

  7. There you go again! Amazing me with your magical self… Butterflies whisper of so many wonderful secrets and only very special people can hear them. You were sent here to reveal them to the rest of us. The world thanks you.

    1. Hi there! So sorry for the delayed reply. We’ve been out in the off grid world. Lol. Thank you so much for your kind words. You make me smile and make me want to write more and more. And I appreciate all of your visits. We plan on being more and more out in the wilderness this year. Good news is I will be around lots of great nature. I can only imagine how I will be inspired. Bad news is no internet. So I might be incommunicado for long periods. But I will be back around to say hi! Thank you again!

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