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Reflections from the SwampDead Birds and Butterflies

Dead Birds and Butterflies

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader

I​ love telling stories. There is a power in stories that allows you to take specific parts of life that resonate with others and show life in a new light. There is a spirit in stories that imbues life with a playfulness that lives within you. Our lives are our stories. Let’s see how a dead bird and butterflies become a story of hope and joy.

On a snowy winter day, I went out to the bird feeder to replenish the seed, a granddaughter by my side. She found a frozen bird below the window. She was upset. She asked if we could bring the bird in, thaw it out and bring it back to life. I wondered if she believed this resurrection could happen or was she hoping for a miracle? We talked about frogs, bears, and chipmunks that sleep through winter and awaken in the Spring.

Death can be hard to accept. I thought of Nature rolling the rocks away from the bear’s cave, warming the soil so that the chipmunks and worms could emerge, gently shaking the trees and grasses so that the life within their roots could flow. I had already told her that the angels come with buckets of paint and paint the leaves in the fall, but she was younger then. As we age, our ability to absorb miracles diminishes. I pondered this thought silently in my heart. Winter’s darkness lingers a long time before the frogs awaken and sing their songs.

Recently my bride, another granddaughter and I went to the Nature Museum to see the butterflies. Walking out of winter and into a tropical world filled with butterflies is a transformative experience.

Butterflies of every colour fluttered by, occasionally landing on us before again taking flight. Life is captured in all of its fragility, beauty and wonder.

A character in a Salman Rushdie novel is clothed only in butterflies. Her long hair covers her nakedness when she enters a building without the butterflies. The butterflies swarm above her as she leads the pilgrims through the African desert on the way to Mecca. She leads them into the Red Sea, which doesn’t part as it did for Moses. They walk into the waters, where they mysteriously enter the afterlife. The butterflies form a massive sphere in the skies and move out into the wilderness, creating their next miracle. Perhaps you’ve seen them too. Butterflies are miracles incarnate.

Not so long ago, I met someone who had heard of me but hadn’t seen me since I was a teen. I didn’t remember him at all. He heard that I had died and was quite surprised that I was still alive. “When had you heard that I had died?” was my first thought, even before, “Who do you know that told you that I had died?” My brother had died about two years ago, and not knowing our family well, he assumed I had passed on. He was familiar with our family name and knew something about my father.

My brother’s memory lives in me. Once when a butterfly landed on me, I had an overwhelming sense of his presence.

When the man who thought I died left and walked into the swirling snowstorm, I felt that I had been dead and resurrected, given a second chance. It was as though I had died, returned to life, and had a mission to complete before losing this mortal coil again.

Smashed against the window, the dead bird woke up and flew away.

Would I lead the pilgrims to Mecca and cross The Red Sea before banging up against the window and becoming frozen in time? Not likely. That was someone else’s vision. Maybe there is another reason for this second chance, an undiscovered future waiting like a pristine field of virgin snow welcoming my footprints; a blank slate, a sheet of paper waiting for inspiration. You may have awoken one fine Spring morning and experienced the same thing.

This transformation is not done through organizing, watching TV, listening to the news, or reading intellectual authors. There are more than enough things in life to drag you down. It’s done by walking away from all the noise in your head and claiming your inner identity. Live your vision, being, intuition, and act on these things without regret. It requires moments of silence to find these places.

Suddenly, my life became a gift, transformed into a butterfly, born to celebrate life. Butterflies only live for a few weeks; fly and savour the sweet nectars of life. It’s always time to celebrate love and being a part of Creation. When we forget that life gives us wings, our souls cry out for the butterflies.

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