Butterflies have always symbolized something beautiful to humanity throughout history and culture. The metamorphosis that moths and butterflies undergo has seemed to be one of the most magical and mysterious things witnessed in nature.
What looks like a small worm, a caterpillar that may crawl along a twig or leaf or that may crawl through the dirt, wraps itself in a hard shell only to emerge some time later as a completely different looking creature with incredibly delicate and soft wings that can launch itself into the skies and dance in the sunbeams.
To so many, just witnessing or learning about that change speaks to transformation, rebirth, hope, personal growth, and freedom from a present state of struggle regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, or any other defining labels. In Greek, the word for butterfly is “psyche,” which actually means “soul,” which is yet another universal theme the world over. In Christianity in particular, the butterfly is symbolic of the birth of Jesus Christ and his resurrection and immortality even though the butterfly is never actually mentioned anywhere in the bible (dinosaurs yes, butterflies no). Some believe that watching a chrysalis hatch is watching the spirit of a human being enter the world. Some believe that butterflies are the souls of babies who have not yet been born. Some believe that they are the souls of the dead. For most it seems that the butterfly is a sign from heaven or the universe, even getting down to the colors representing specific messages even if the message is simply, “Breathe.”
All of this is to say that butterflies are generally agreed upon universally to be impossibly beautiful and pretty magical even if you don’t believe in magic.
I remember being a kid and NEVER being able to catch the butterflies but wanting so desperately to do just that, so imagine my surprise when on New Year’s Day I met this little fellow outside when I was sitting in my favorite rocking chair, enjoying the cold wind and rain. He is NOT a monarch, although they belong to the same genus, but rather a Queen butterfly — a Danaus gilippus. He’d stopped on the ground by the porch out of the rain and was not moving so I cupped my hands around him to blow hot air on him because it was pretty damn cold and I wanted to warm his tiny body. Imagine my delight when his tiny antennae began to wiggle and his tiny little butterfly front legs reached out and pulled him onto my finger!
When I sat back down on my rocker, he joined me and crawled onto my lap where he was sheltered from the wind by my wrap… Until he didn’t want to be there anymore.
So he climbed.
And stayed on my right shoulder. At first I moved him gently back down to where my headphone wires wouldn’t bang him because I was afraid I was going to hurt him but he would just turn around and climb back up. Eventually I just accepted that he wanted to sit on my shoulder and we sat there for at least an hour until the chill had soaked into my bones and I needed to warm up, so I gently scooped him up and placed him back where he was protected from the elements and where the ground felt warm so I could go back inside.
But I was curious… So after a while I went back wearing a warm coat and found him right where I left him and when I placed my hand next to him, he climbed back up and we took our seat on the rocking chair once more. Of course he climbed again but this time he went all the way up to where my hair was over my right shoulder and after climbing further up into my curls, he eventually found himself comfortably flexing and resting in my hair by the collar.
And there we sat in contented companionship for over an hour.
Me delightedly peeking on him using my phone and giggling when the slightest graze of his wings tickled my neck in something much lighter than someone’s breath on my neck but still so definitely present…
Him flexing and stretching, probably enjoying the warmth coming up from the inside of my jacket…
As the sun started to get quite low and it became dusky, he climbed up my hair to the top of my head where he flexed and stretched and finally perched like a very tiny but very fancy hat for the Ascot or Kentucky Derby. And that is when he closed up his wings to sleep. Being alone on a rapidly darkening porch on a cold night with a butterfly I could not see to carefully remove from my noggin meant that he ended up coming inside for the night and only very reluctantly accepting the small flower and twig I offered him before placing him carefully in a mason jar to sleep in the warmth of the house while a storm raged outside.
I named him Arlin.