Friday, August 10, 2007

The Butterfly

Butterflies are beautiful.

From the time I was in kindergarten, when we raised them all inside of their little boxes, watching them advance from the caterpillar stage to their full black-and-orange glory, I've thought they were beautiful. I remember going outside and opening the boxes and watching as at least forty butterflies flew about and fluttered about and lit upon green leaves only to take off again and continued to move on as I ran, laughing, to follow them.

Butterflies are fragile and delicate and exquisite. I have always loved them because they are free, never to be caught. And since I've always been Maria, the words of the song have always applied to me:
    How do you solve a problem like Maria?
    How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
    How do you find a word that means Maria?
    A flibbertijibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!
A moonbeam, and I would add...a butterfly.

You can't catch a cloud or a moonbeam and you cannot catch a butterfly. A butterfly can choose, however, to alight upon you and stay with you, and that, of course, is what Maria does. I love Maria, which shouldn't surprise anyone, because I am Maria, gentle and wild and a headache and a girl.

It's a sin to keep a butterfly against its will, to pin it down so that it "may not escape." For the essence of a butterfly is its choice and its freedom...

I have always been fascinated by the idea of the butterfly effect. I believe it more than I believe anything else in the world. Everything we do, every single one of our actions, no matter how slight, causes a slight change, a reverberation; we have brought about something that wasn't there before; we have engaged in an act of creation. The merest word, the faintest smile, changes someone's day and leads them to act differently toward another person; it is a chain effect whose greatness cannot possibly be measured. And while the same exists for all that which is negative as well, I choose to think of the positives and the great good that lies within our power.

But the butterfly is not only important if it actually acts- if it actually flutters its wings. A butterfly is important merely because it exists. Its very existence is necessary for the world to continue as it should. In perhaps my favorite science fiction story, "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury (and if you haven't read it yet, don't read this, because it will ruin it for you:)
    Eckels felt himself fall into a chair. He fumbled crazily at the thick slime on his boots. He held up a clod of dirt, trembling, “No, it can’t be. Not a little thing like that. No!”

    Embedded in the mud, glistening green and gold and black, was a butterfly, very beautiful and very dead.

    “Not a little thing like that! Not a butterfly!” cried Eckels.

    It fell to the floor, an exquisite thing, a small thing that could upset balances and knock down a line of small dominoes and then big dominoes and then gigantic dominoes, all down the years across Time. Eckels’ mind whirled. It couldn’t change things. Killing one butterfly couldn’t be that important! Could it?
But it can be.

Because, you see, a butterfly can change the world.


Anonymous said...

"and you cannot catch a butterfly"

I beg to differ.

Chana said...

Oh, you may think you've caught a butterfly.

But if you hold her against her will, she is never yours.

Erachet said...

There is a Scrubs episode about this. Sort of. In an odd way. But it uses a butterfly. And it shows how the tiniest thing, like where a butterfly lands, can effect so much.

Anonymous said...

That's a lovely piece of writing Chana. I love the way you wove all the ideas together so beautifully.

It reminded me of a piece of footage in the documentary "My Best Fiend" about actor Klaus Kinski. Youtube video here

Looking Forward said...

chana, perhaps I shouldn't tell you what my brother was told to do for homework over summer break in college...

"because it is a monsterous thing to slay a [butterfly]. Only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain would commit such a crime. The [wings] of a [butterfly] will [make you happy] [even if you are hungry and homeless], but at a terrible price. You have slain something poor and defenseless to save [bring you joy], and you will have but a half life, a cursed life, from the moment [its wings alight in your hands]."

Enjoy. Somehow I thought that the quote would fit with your post.

Ezzie said...

Where's Scraps?! :)

"Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."

Scraps said...

Ah periodic away message quote, from Nathaniel Hawthorne. :)

Irina Tsukerman said...

On the subject of butterflies and freedom and "never to be caught", I would STRONGLY recommend John Fowles' "The Collector".

Anonymous said...

Oh, you may think you've caught a butterfly.

But if you hold her against her will, she is never yours.

I'm afraid will have to concur with Net.

Stubborn and Strong said...

It's a sin to keep a butterfly against its will, to pin it down so that it "may not escape." For the essence of a butterfly is its choice and its freedom...

Well, what happen that butterfly die natural way, and u put dead butterfly on display to perserve the beauty of butterfly? so is it "sin"?

Because I have that display, and u'll see it very soon!