The girls came running into the house. Panting explanations. "We caught a butterfly! It's a big one!"
My eyes widened. "You caught a butterfly? Really?"
I set down the dishcloth. I've never had the thrill of catching a butterfly. I wondered how big it was, how they managed to sweep it up in Eliza's new net. I turned to follow them, their feet and arms whipping motion, hands gesturing grandly.
"Yes. Eliza has it. But it's hurt."
The story spilled out of their lips in frantic sounds. Strings of sentences flying so fast it took me a minute to piece them together.
They caught this gorgeous yellow and black swallowtail. Mid-flight. But couldn't get her into the belly of the net. Sami, in an effort to help, tweezed the butterfly with her fingers. "It tried to fly away" they said, but while Sam was holding it, it fell into the bottom of the net, a portion of it's hindwing severed.
I looked at the net. The butterfly was hopping and flipping and the girls were visibly worried. Especially Sam. Her little heart was burdened with responsibility.
Not sure how this was going to play out, I grabbed the camera, and decided we'd better take a closer look. The girls quickly found a box in the garage and placed it on the grass. Carefully, we opened the net and coaxed the butterfly out.
We examined her missing part. She was obviously maimed, but so exquisite.
For one second I was tempted to fill the air with "should haves" and "shouldn'ts." But only for a second. Life is it's own teacher. And most of the time we already have the answers. We know what we should have done differently. What we wouldn't do again.
This was an opportunity to learn. To observe life hanging in the fragile balance. And I wanted the girls to process it themselves. I felt like we'd pulled a brilliant star from the sky - one tiny sliver of glory, and it was still shining. There for us to inspect up close and open ourselves to its lessons.
She (we think it was a she after doing some looking online) began to flutter and flap - battering the cardboard walls, never rising above the confines of her new home.
The girls picked roses and put them into the box, hoping to make her more comfortable.
After listening to the knocking, brushing sound of her winged body against the box, the girls named her "Flapper." Right then and there. She became a part of them.
Flapper lighted outside the box and rose a foot or two into the air, then fell to the ground. It was exhausting to watch. We hoped that maybe, just maybe, she would fly away - learn how to compensate for her new injury.
"Try again," the girls said. "Try again." But she toppled down and limped over Eliza's feet, flapping and fluttering nowhere.
We got down on our knees and watched her skitter over the grass, then stop. It looked as if she was resting, recovering - trying to rally some strength. The girls looked at me in silence and together we watched her breathing, heaving, open-closing her painted wings.
She's beautiful isn't she? With those blue and orange jewels. We marveled at her long antennae, the perfect curl of her tongue. Crouched in the quiet, we reverenced one of God's creations. Felt respect for the gift of life.
Finally Eliza spoke. "She wants to fly away. She doesn't want to stay here. Maybe we shouldn't have caught her."
I thought of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, The Butterfly, when the butterfly says,
"Just living is not enough... one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower."
Sam nodded. "I shouldn't have picked her up Mommy."
She slumped against me and I slid my arm around her.
Suddenly, Flapper took flight and lofted over a crabapple limb into the neighbor's yard.
The girls cheered. But knowing she couldn't have made it far, they determined to look for her. I let them search over the wall, sift through the next door pines. They couldn't find her.
I did my own looking, and while parting bushes, I heard the girls rummaging through the garage. When I came back to the yard, they had everything prepared for Flapper's return.
A home if she died. So they could bury her in petals.
very few days we see a flash of yellow dance by the kitchen window. Sometimes the girls stop mid-pedal on the driveway to point at the blue sky. "There's Flapper!" they shout. And a bright yellow swallowtail flits over the rosebushes.
No butterfly has ever stopped long enough for us to see if it really is Flapper. But, for the girls, a hope that she is still living, with freedom, and maybe a little flower, is enough.