12.24.2010

BUTTERFLIES INSIDE

We have to remind ourselves, in the face of unremitting holiday advertising, that Christmas is meant to be a celebration of Jesus, who came into this world under some duress. Though he probably was not born in December, which would have been a time of bitter cold in Judea and certainly not a time of herding sheep, we have collectively settled on this day, just past the solstice, to celebrate a miracle, no matter whose it is: birth.


I woke on Christmas Eve in a mood of confusion and some small torpor, disturbed by a surprise--and sadly surreal--visit from someone I had not seen in more than a decade. I sat with my morning tea a while, wondering what to do. My sons decided to go shopping. It popped into my mind to visit the butterflies at the American Museum of Natural History. I tried to shrug it off, sure that the museum would be mobbed. But it was such a compelling thought--and I've learned to pay attention to thoughts that nag at me--that I set aside other plans for the day, and went to the tropics.

The Butterfly Conservatory is filled with creatures of ravishing beauty. And they turned out to be just the company I needed for a few quiet hours this morning. I didn't think about anything at all but butterflies for the greater part of my visit. I had my camera with me, fortunately, because I felt inspired to try to capture what was so deeply affecting me. I wandered through the hall, and came to a Norfolk pine, the kind many people grow as houseplants, and then decorate as Christmas trees.

The branches of these trees were clogged with pendant butterflies; other tiny creatures rested on top of the spines. Some were still for long minutes, so that we could stare at them. What marvelous ornaments they were.

I noticed that the people in the conservatory were more like butterflies in their "zig zag wantonness", as Yeats described their movements. The children, especially, darted about, shrieking delightedly. I found myself thinking about what the place must look like to their eyes, hoping the wonder and magic of the visit stays with them their whole lives. Some day they might learn that butterflies are considered an "indicator species"; they are studied to assess the health of an ecosystem. They are, in other words, messengers of vitality. We would do well to begin heeding their plight. I found myself wishing for an end to cynicism about the health of our planet from politicians, and an end to sowing confusion about science.


These creatures do seem magical, otherworldly. The wonder of it is, of course, that they are of our world. I am reminded, as I look around, that we do not have to wait for visitations from the gods. The magic is all around us.

I stood very, very still, and a large blue butterfly came to sit on my head for long moments. I had a strong impression of his weight, and I could feel his tiny feet rest on strands of my hair, the surprising heft of his wings as they opened slowly and folded shut. The children pointed at my head, laughing.


At other moments all I had were blurred impressions of antique color. Later I learned that the butterfly's wings are covered with scales, and that the blues and greens and reds and iridescences are created not by pigment but by the microstructure of the scales--the result of a "coherent scattering of light." That alone is a useful phrase, one that I could see might lend itself to a myriad of applications in our lives. I made another wish: to be near those who scatter light, coherently. To try to do so myself.

Yeats wrote, in Tom O'Roughly, " 'An aimless joy is a pure joy...And wisdom is a butterfly, And not a gloomy bird of prey.' " A good thought to consider, as our soldiers sit out Christmas in cold desert mountains. I wished for an end to war.


It is only natural that butterflies would be linked to human souls; both are nearly incomprehensible.  The ancient Greeks believed that butterflies were the souls of those who had passed away. And so I thought of those who have gone out of my life; I thought of my dear niece, Dominique, who several years ago took her life at the age of nineteen. She had an ethereal beauty, even as a child. Another wish: that we learn to reach and hold fast those who are desperate in their misery.

And I thought of people who have gone from my life, though not from this life, fortunately. And I thanked them, as I watched the butterflies, for the love we once shared. Just because love ends does not mean it was a mistake. Though I don't recall that Ovid makes use of butterfly forms in his Metamorphoses, (one of my favorite books), I have known what it is like to want an escape; I wished for cerulean wings.

And I thought of how the word for butterfly in ancient Greek is psyche. Psyche was the name for Eros' human lover. Holidays, for some, are a time of feeling especially alone, even if they are surrounded by others. Festivity has a way of throwing into relief all that is missing. My wish for the lonely: quietude. And clarity.

And there my own thoughts took wing, into the realm of hope--hope for continuing spiritual transformation, and hope for earthly, earthy love.

The wings of a butterfly are so fragile that they can be torn apart by a hard rain. We, too, are battered by the tempests of our lives. But we are lucky. When our wings are crushed, we seem to be able to grow new ones. We are born with the gift of resilience--one that we must nurture and exercise, or, eventually, we lose the capacity to bounce back.






So I thought of my wishes for all of us:

May the next year be a time of growth, and change, and delight. May we all find ways to give of the love with which our hearts are so easily filled--when we let them be filled. May we learn to unclench our fists, and let go of anger. May we metamorphose through our days in an atmosphere of good will, and take flight into the world sparkling good will over others, in coherent scatterings of light. And may the inevitable incoherent scatterings visited upon us eventually leave us stronger and better.


Billions of creatures will be born on Christmas Day. Many of them--perhaps even most of them--will never be seen by human eyes. But we know they are out there. And here are we. All together on this tiny planet, spinning through space, scattered, scattering. May each of us have a chance to linger, for a fraction of an instant, on butterfly wings.

44 comments:

Cindy White said...

Probably the most wonderful post you have written. Thank you and Merry Christmas.

lostpastremembered said...

Amen. Merry Christmas, Ms Browning. The words are a great gift as are the images. Many thanks.

Madgew said...

Lovely thoughts. Happy holidays.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

"Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."
~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Wishing you a most Happy Christmas, and a New Year full of butterflies.

The Swan said...

I have never responded to your blog, UNTIL NOW.

What a beautiful and 'prosaic light' YOU cast upon our "Winged and Colored Souls" that dwell within our bodies. Yes, WE are all captured here on this Celestial planet, 'caught' within its Orbit...eternally 'flying' in the Universe. WE are the 'scales' of a body called EARTH - that if WE were all were taught from childhood to respect, a 'Glow' so shimmering unlike any other seen by Human Eyes can take place.

'The Glow'...PEACE UNTO THE WORLD!!!

Vicky Brandt said...

Joyeux Noël, Dominique. Thank you for sharing yourself --and such beautiful thoughts-- with such dedication. And thank you for managing to always find hope. I am so often tempted to utter despair when I see what we are doing to the world around us at every level (the planet itself, other species, even our own species). Your determination strengthens mine.

From one child of a Moroccan mother to another - may you enjoy a festive, magical Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Now we know what your heart sounds like. Beautifully written. Kind of you to share.

Julie said...

Thank you for these thoughts and beautiful photos today. Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a new year filled with wonder.

Sara said...

Wishing you peace, joy, and blessings on the Christmas Eve. You cannot imagine how much I needed to read this post right this moment. Thank you.

Sascha said...

I too have never posted a comment on your blog until now... but felt I should. Your post was a perfect end to a pleasant and warm Christmas Eve. Thank you for your thorough inspiration and hopeful thoughts. I feel ready to face this next week as well as the new year. Merry Christmas

vicki said...

Thank you for this post, on this Eve. so beautiful, thought provoking...and marvelous images!
Blessings to you for the gifts you give us here.

Valerie said...

I've stumbled upon your blog for the first time on this Christmas night. Thank you for your words and images - especially that first one - of the butterflies in the Norfolk Pine. Trully magical, in the best sense.
Merry Christmas and blessing to you.

SweetRetreat said...

My, what a lovely posting. Three unexpected joys on Christmas Eve, this one very special.

Thank you.

Bruce Barone said...

Thank You for this wonderful Christmas message.

May peace and love be always with you!

c said...

"The magic is all around us."

and so many times your postings are just that - magical.

Thank you for sharing your life with us. May your Christmas be full of magic, and may 2011 be a year which, whether coupled or single, brings quietude to us all.

My Dog-Eared Pages said...

Thank you for every word! Merry Christmas, Dominique.

mary said...

Thank you for your gift today! It is, perhaps, the most needed, the most beautiful and the most thoughtful that I have received this Christmas. "Coherent scatterings of light" isn't that what we are all intended to be? To one day reveal our souls as coherent scatterings of light--reflections of hope and renewal and love. Thank you for gifts butterflies and words frame as coherent scatterings of light.

Lines of Beauty said...

Just lovely. So glad you followed your intuition.

Trust yourself.You know more than you think you do. -Benjamin Spock

Warren said...

Sixty years ago my 5 year old brother asked mom what Christmas was all about. "It's the birthday of the Baby Jesus," she replied. He asked "Are we going to have a cake?" .. Well, 60 years and 60 cakes later Santa still brings a birthday cake that we enjoy with champagne as presents are opened. Some years it said 'BJ' rather than Baby Jesus and the rules committee (two sons by now grown up) disqualified the effort.
This year my 16 yo daughter baked ours after I hemmed and hawwed about traditions -- an extraordinary endeavor with boiled sugar meringue, hazelnuts and pecans, chocolate butter ganache icing, finished sometime after Santa had landed.
Keeping traditions going, even quirky ones like this, are worth the calories. Particularly when the grandchild picks up the baton and runs better than I ever could.

Karena said...

Dominique.
A most poignant writing to remind us of so muchthat is of importance!

Butterflies have alwasy fascinated me with their ethereal beauty and colorings. Your details have inspired me.

All the Best in the New Year!

xoxo
Karena
Art by Karena

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, as always. Considering your comments re: wishing things were better, different, wonder if you're familiar with the work of Masaru Emoto, "The Hidden Messages in Water", one of his books, which illustrates the impact of our thinking on our world? He's just one voice on that topic. Peace, from our being peace.

Thanks for this continuously uplifting and beautiful blog.

Sancy

Ashley said...

So lovely. Thank you.

Ashley said...

So lovely. Thank you.

TeaButterfly said...

Thank you for the warm wishes and the beautiful words and butterflies.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

-Vic from TeaButterfly

PS: The Japanese also believe that butterflies are the souls of the just deceased, such as in the great movie "the Taste of Tea". When the grandPa dies, we first see a white butterfly fluttering by anf then we *know* he has passed away. A very moving family film.

karensandburg said...

strange isn't it how someone from our past can cast a spell on us, putting us into a strange reverie that unfurls in unexpected ways. contemplations on contemplations -- what a great post and lovely how you've given us all the gift of taking something and tossing and turning with it until it is shaped into what we decide to shape it into -- something good and expanding. and that really is the gift of your blog dominique -- how you take things and move them along a path to go along with a newly defined self. to change the "theoretical" yes-i-can-change into the actual changing...

thanks for taking us along your trips -- always fun and enlightening...

Big Hug Studio said...

Those are really nice photos.

Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

wow

Anna said...

Your photos are gorgeous.

Dona said...

Thank you for this gift of love and beauty, a most beautiful expression.

Barbara said...

Such a beautiful post Dominique. I love the ephemeral quality of butterflies, and you've captured them perfectly in your photos. You words compliment them perfectly.
Thank you.

Emom said...

Wishing you peace and happiness....smiles.

scribbler50 said...

Simply remarkable!

You've really done something special with this blog, Dominique, may all the good that you've sent out come back to you tenfold.

Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful piece, and a wondrous Christmas gift. Thank you. May the new year bring peace and joy and scatterings of light to you and all your grateful readers.

Project Girl said...

What a great post! I recently started volunteering at our local butterfly house, and I must agree that it is moving.

I asked for and received your book for Christmas. I can barely put it down! I made it to "Winter" in the first sitting. Thank you, and I hope you had a Merry Christmas.

Layanee said...

Listen to the inner voice and peace will be yours. So glad you listened and then shared the experience. A beautiful post.

megan said...

a beautiful post, dominique. thank you for writing it. what a lovely thoughts with which to end the year.

by the way, if you haven't read nathaniel hawthorne's short story "the artist of the beautiful," i highly recommend it -- it's a must for butterfly lovers.

Helen @ Gardening With Confidence said...

Beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Интересно, но все же хотелось бы побольше узнать об этом. Понравилась статья!:-)

Maria Wheeler, Simply Cool Stuff said...

This post is sensational! In my quietude I ventured with you to that museum and without sound or hub bub, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.Happy Healthy 2011 to you and your family! m

Karena said...

Dominique, you are the winner of my Giveaway from My Sparrow! Yay!

Please contact me with your mailing info!

Congratulations & Happy New Years!

xoxo
Karena
Art by Karena

Dominique said...

THANK YOU TO EVERYONE for your good wishes and your generous support. I can't wait to discover The Hidden Messages in Water, and the Hawthorne story. Thanks Karen for understanding about the tossing and turning, that is exactly what happens! And Warren, I am still laughing at the idea of the cake with Happy Birthday BJ on it. That is indeed a splendid tradition and must not be dropped on any account!

Dominique said...

And Vicki, in honor of Moroccan mothers, I long ago bought a figure from a nativity scene--a camel--that I plug in as a nightlight in the winter. As a child in New England I thought my mother used to get around on camels.. and then l I finally saw Casablanca! I don't know how she ever adjusted to the US. Yes I do. She didn't.

Tamara Matthews-Stephenson said...

As usual, I enjoy your hopeful and uplifting message and now I love these little creatures even more than I had before. I am so excited to hear of your recent journey to India. Thanks for all you bring to us and inspire,xo tamara

Robin said...

Thanks to Sweetpea I've come to visit your lovely and touching post, your visit with the butterflies, your unusual pictures, your light.... Bless you, I needed this today!