A few weeks after my mother died, I received a card in the mail from one of her friends, Nancy.
Nancy wrote how her mother Anna shared my mom's love of the color blue and how her mother was close to butterflies. After her own mother's passing, Nancy found great comfort when she would see a butterfly and could feel her mother's goodness and blessings in those moments.
Inside the note she had tucked a handkerchief of her mother's. It was embroidered with a blue butterfly, intended to wipe my tears and to remind me that there would be many times in my life that I would, once again, feel my mother's grace.
I kept it out for a long time until one day it seemed time to put it away in a treasure box for safekeeping. And it stayed there, out-of-sight, out-of-mind...
Until two years ago.
On Labor Day in 2012, I was vacationing at the beach with my family when I had a seizure.
It happened early in the morning while I was getting a drink of water. I had never had one before and the men were all asleep when Jim heard me hit the bathroom floor. I'm pretty sure I frightened the heck out of Jim, Jack and my Dad that morning...what a way to wake up! They did what any right-minded men would do...and got me to the closest regional urgent care center.
Jim stayed with me for hours while I was evaluated and slept. I was dreadfully tired and felt like my brain had run a marathon. After four hours of observation and tests, they found nothing immediately wrong and discharged me, instructing me to follow up with my physician when I got home.
It was midday when Jim and I walked back through the waiting room, my arm tucked through his elbow for support. The waiting area was completely empty except for the sound of our feet crossing the linoleum floor.
How strange it felt to see an empty emergency room...it's almost an oxymoron: empty emergency room...and it added to the surrealism of my already fuzzy brain.
We stepped slowly toward the automatic door, Jim taking great care with his wife who seemed to be more fragile than he might have thought just 24 hours before. The door opened for us and we began to walk through but pulled up short when we saw what was on the ground in front of our feet.
There on the sidewalk, smack dab in the middle of our path was a black and blue butterfly.
Quite still and gently pulsing its wings, it seemed to be waiting for us.
We might have stepped on it if we'd been moving at our normal pace but this day we were walking more slowly to match the cadence of my tired brain.
It was so strange to see a butterfly surrounded by all that concrete and asphalt...so out of place that we did nothing but pause and take it all in. "Wow." Jim said.
Like a sunbeam, it warmed us and its beauty and glory were part of our world.
It wasn't frightened by our presence and sat long enough for the event to be remarkable in our memory.
Then it started to flit about like a flower on the wind, dancing around and around the two of us and kissing me on the shoulder before it flew away. We watched it go until it was no more.
When we finally turned to look at one another, a knowing passed between us. It was her. My mother. Come to tell us everything was alright.
The butterfly displayed her favorite shade of blue and the visit was too extraordinary to be anything different.
I never told anyone until today. I thought no one would believe it...and I'm not sure we would have believed it either had we not been there together.
When I got home, I looked up what type of butterfly it had been, not recognizing it as one that I had seen very often.
The Spicebush Swallowtail...
As time went on, I put that story away too, until my BNF (blogging needle friend), Gerry Krueger, asked me to embroider a butterfly for her.
See, Gerry is heading to the International Quilt Festival in Houston where her quilt, It's a Man's World Unless Women Vote!, is a finalist in the 2014 IQA fall judged show, Quilts: A World of Beauty. Woot!! Woot!!
She's a naturalist, a bird lover, quilter, a teacher, a humorist, a dog lover, an embroiderer, and a conservationist and the list goes on and on!
This woman who has a rich and accomplished history herself created a quilt to honor all the suffragettes who fought for our right to vote.
And she is headed to Houston in a few weeks to see her quilt hang in a juried show. It's a big event for anyone but for Gerry it's monumental. And for me too.
Because she's taking me with her!
Gerry is making a Vest of Resplendence, a Coat of Many Colors, a garment worthy of a grand occasion...and she's piecing it and embroidering it with all the motifs that are important to her...and that is where I fit in.
I will not be in her suitcase but I will be there in the spirit of this blue butterfly who will light on her vest. And I will see her quilt hanging there and I will dance when she dances and bring all the beauty and glory to the moment that only this spicy swallowtail can bring.
And she will be glorious.
Not just because of her quilt or her garment, although they're pretty glorious.
But because of all the women who made it possible...all those who suffered and fought and cried and fought some more...and all the women who honor them...and all the women who bring us to this moment...our prededessors, the pioneers, our mothers...They will all be there.
As will my mother, my mother's friend Nancy and her mother Anna...the women who helped me make a blue butterfly, a Spicebush Swallowtail, to dance for Gerry and her quilt.
P.S. As for the seizure thing, I'm fine. Evidently, there's a 1 in 10 chance that a person will have one seizure in their lifetime. I've had mine.
And every day the tree would go with the woman wherever she went.
She went to the school where the woman taught and she met all of her students. She went to the grocery store, to soccer fields, to family parties, to hospitals and to the gym.
Everywhere they went, people noticed the tree and laughed and smiled at the woman and the tree was happy.
As time went on, the tree took on more responsibilities, carrying more and more of the woman's essentials.
The tree was full with the woman’s life...her papers and pens, her books and her money, her gym cards and energy bars, her receipts and the birthday cards that the woman gave to the people she loved. The tree strained from the load and sometimes felt she might burst at the seams from the effort. But the tree was strong and loved the woman very much.
And the tree was happy.
Then one day, some bad men who needed money, stole the tree away from the woman and took her far far away.
The woman was very, very sad. She cried and told the policeman how important the tree was to her...how she was a very special tree, how much she loved her and how she carried the tree with her wherever she went. They just couldn’t be apart.
The policemen heard how much the woman loved the tree and searched high and low to bring her back to the woman.
As the policemen spread the story about the tree through the force, one officer thought he had recognized the tree in a trash dumpster they had inspected earlier that day. Two policemen went back to the dumpster to see if the tree was there but the dumpster was empty. The trash truck had already come to haul the tree away.
The policemen got back in their car and went to the landfill where they knew the truck had gone. There amongst mounds of discarded trash, rotting food, old paint cans and muck, they found the tree.
The policemen drove the tree back to the woman’s house.
When the woman opened her door and saw the tree, she squealed in delight and hugged the tree and thanked the nice officers who found her friend. The tree shook with joy as the women held her, feeling safe once again with her friend who she thought she had lost.
And the tree was happy.
And the woman was happy too...
But also sad.
The tree was wounded and hurt and was covered in grime and gook. And even though the woman knew it wasn’t her fault that the bad men had hurt the tree, she felt guilty anyway and she put the tree away.
And the woman stayed away from the tree for a long, long time.
Until one day when a wise and very good friend of the woman got sick. The woman wanted to do anything to help her friend feel better so she asked her friend what she could do for her. The wise friend knew exactly what she needed so she asked the woman to get the tree out of hiding and take the tree to where she could be healed.
The wise woman felt that the tree was a metaphor for her own aging and wearing body. Like the tree, she was no longer perfect but was still very much alive and filled with generosity. She herself has lots to give and so must the tree.
The wise woman knew that the tree was never intended to be put away on a shelf but to be carried and worn...to serve the woman until she was all used up and until her last leaf fell from her limbs.
The tree was so excited to be taken off the shelf and wanted desperately to be part of the woman’s life again. So she dusted herself off and cleaned herself up as best she could. She took a soapy bath and tried to scrape the paint and grime from her trunk and branches.
She couldn’t wait for the woman to see her again...
When the woman saw the tree, tears welled up in her eyes, she embraced the tree and clutched her to her chest. She was so very happy to see her friend again.
[For all those who wrote to give ideas on how to clean the purse...I couldn't find a dry cleaner anywhere who would attempt to clean the purse with all those leaves and apples. Finally this weekend, Jim slowly worked on restoring the purse. He dipped into water tentatively at first, scrubbing little by little until we were certain that none of the velvets or silks would run. The result was great and better than any dry cleaner could have done.]