• Paula Azevedo, PhD

The Magic of Butterflies

Every time I visit my parents on the weekends I make sure to spend some time in their greenhouse admiring the beautiful vegetables growing. The greenhouse and vegetable garden are my father’s pride these days. He spends so much time each day tending and caring for his garden, which the whole family enjoys. This weekend I noticed a butterfly flying into the greenhouse ( a common occurrence) and it was trying to escape by flying towards the sun, but the roof was clearly obstructing the butterfly’s escape. The poor butterfly tried to fly out but continued to hit the ceiling.

As I watched this butterfly it reminded me of a childhood memory of catching butterflies in glass jars as a young child. There was a period of about a week or so during first grade that I would take a small glass jar with a lid that had holes poked out to school. I threw grass clippings, dandelions into the jar and during break I’d chase the butterflies in the large open field trying to capture one. I would catch the butterfly and quickly put it in the jar. I thought that butterflies were magical, actually I still do. Since the jar was too small all the butterfly could do was rest and gently flap its wings. I’d be giddy and watch the butterfly with amazement.

The bell would ring and I’d run back to the classroom, show my teacher my butterfly and gently place the jar inside my school desk. Sadly, each butterfly I caught that week died within hours. Each day I’d try something different. I poked bigger holes on the top, added more grass and flowers, added a few drops of water, but inevitably the butterfly died. I realized after days of capturing butterflies that you cannot trap the wildness and magic of a butterfly. I couldn’t contain its essence in this jar because its spirit would vanish. That in order for the butterfly to live it needed to fly, to soar, to be free to be a butterfly.

While watching the trapped butterfly and reliving these childhood memories, I realized that the same is true for the human spirit. We can try to contain the human spirit in these tight jars of uniformed jobs, suits, high heels, family and societal expectations and pressures. You can try to force the human spirit into submission through trinkets, gadgets, and toys, but eventually one day the human spirit has to choose between life or death. Between living a wild life, flying, and soaring into its true nature, its highest form, and its purpose in life or it remains in the jar to die. The human body will not die. Instead the body will continue to function and survive. However, the human body is a shell that contains the beauty and magic of the human spirit. Instead, the human spirit will die or come close to death if it is not allowed to live its life’s purpose. Whether it’s to be a creative, a parent, a lover, a teacher, an athlete, a gardener, a philosopher, etc. Unlike the butterflies I trapped into glass jars as a child, we have a choice. Yes, perhaps we had a poor childhood, injustice, traumatic experience, a bad hand in life, but we have a choice to remain in the glass jar or open the jar and fly out to live a life that is full, messy, creative and very human.