As you may know, from one of my jokes here, the children's room at my library has an aquarium full of caterpillars during the summer. The caterpillars eat milkweed, which is a food we humans cannot eat, and then they crawl along the ceiling of the aquarium until they are ready. They set up to transform. For a bit more than a week they hang there, and then, when they feel that all the light and earth and heavens and waters and creatures have properly been created, they emerge. It's a fabulous story if you've never heard it, but you have heard it. They come out as butterflies. They are lovely. They are so lovely that their very name, butter, flies, which should be faintly disgusting, becomes, by the metamorphosis of the merging, butterflies, dazzling, magical, beautiful.
The butterflies, shortly after their debut as such, have to be taken out of the aquarium and set free in the children's garden. The children's librarians, most of them very brave, do this regularly. They are not so much children's librarians as they are butterfly cowboys. Would you like to know where the Dr. Seuss books are, or you want to play the Wii, or you need pictures of flags, or you need a funny book about princesses? Ah, go to the children's room and talk to one of the butterfly cowboys.
One day, as I often do, I was mooning over the caterpillars and butterflies. One caterpillar was searching the roof for a place to hang. He could not decide. Poke, search, move on. The one butterfly in there was drying her new wings.
"Would you like to release the butterfly later this afternoon?" one of the butterfly cowboys asked me.
"Yes." I answered.
If an insect touches me I tend to brush it off in a startling paroxysm of violent twitching. I do not normally invite intimacies with insects. I was also very afraid of crushing the butterfly, and too I was afraid of loosing it disastrously inside the library. But "Yes." alone seemed all of the choices for my answer.
I nervously awaited my appointed time.
I made clear my anxiousness. Well, I made my anxiousness as clear as one who everyone thinks is joking can make it. I was told one reassuring thing. Butterflies are tough. Who knew? I mean, besides the butterfly cowboys.
I arrived for the butterfly release. I was alarmed that this was a somewhat ceremonial event and many people had gathered. Dazed I plunged my hand into the aquarium. My immediate nightmare that I would be hopelessly unable to grab the butterfly was dispelled as the butterfly went instantly and alertly into my hand. Butterflies are like cats!
I cupped my second hand over the butterfly to try and make a soft, light filled room. The butterfly calmly and affectionately explored my hand. Me and a train of people went out to the children's garden. I walked to the nearest flower, just in case the butterfly wanted a flower. I opened my hands. The butterfly flew. Everyone applauded.
Two days later I was walking through my neighborhood, making my way towards work. Passing some lavender I reached, as I do, to collect some to smell. As I did a butterfly, my monarch butterfly, or, so much more likely, one like it, flew toward me. It danced in the air, and then it flew on. I did not do much in that brief encounter beyond looking on delightedly. But I tell you this: I felt such warmth towards that creature, such unmitigated and unhesitating warmth, such as I have never felt, aye a thousand times more than I have ever felt, towards any of its kind in the whole of my life.