Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Butterfly

I'd like to talk about one of the most transcendent experiences that I ever encountered over the course of my life. The incident in question occurred on July 7, 2006, a Friday: before driving off to work that afternoon, I stopped at the local Stop & Shop supermarket (the same supermarket where I worked part-time for nearly 7 years, from 1997 to 2004). Within this supermarket is a bank where I do most of my banking, such as cashing checks. On the way into the supermarket that afternoon, in the tiny vestibule that leads one into the store, a sudden movement against one of the big glass windows to my left startled me. I looked over and saw a big butterfly bashing against the glass, desperately trying to escape. This butterfly was easily the size of the palm of my hand, its colors being black and blue with a touch of red... very beautiful. Probably the most beautiful butterfly I've ever seen. As I made my way into the supermarket and went to cash my check I kept thinking about this butterfly, and how it would probably die if no one helped it get outside.

So after cashing my check I left the store, then returned to the inside vestibule. There, I took a folded up receipt from inside my wallet and gently placed it near the butterfly. Eventually, it clinged onto the receipt. I carefully cupped it in my hands and carried it outside. It was the first (and, to date, only) time I had ever touched a butterfly, and I handled it so gently because I was terrified of accidentally hurting it: in a short story I wrote years later, when I related this incident I described it as "picture the Virgin Mary cradling the infant Jesus for the first time." As soon as we were outdoors, I opened my hands and let it go and it quickly flew away, into the bright sky above me, higher and higher, it's freedom a joy to behold in the afternoon sun, and it was as if a dark cloud lifted itself off my soul. Just a little act of kindness that to most people would be no big deal... I just wonder how many people passed by that poor trapped butterfly. Did they consider helping it? Did they just not care? Why, out of the multitude of people who passed through those doors that afternoon, was it me who freed it? Was I the only one who cared enough, that afternoon? I mean, keep in mind, this was a butterfly, a creature most people find exotic and beautiful, unlike say, a spider or something (not that spiders aren't beautiful).

But what I keep coming back to was the feeling I had as I watched the butterfly soar away that day. Everything about that afternoon now seems almost surrealistically hyperreal to me, almost mythological even: it felt like something out of a dream, an archetypal experience manifesting in 4-dimensional space-time. It was as if when the butterfly flew into the bright sky a piece of my soul flew up with it, escaping from the banal wretchedness of existence itself. Many Gnostics believed (or I should say believe because there are still some Gnostics out there) that within every human being there is a sort of "divine spark," a little piece of Heaven/God, and that the purpose of existence is to reunite one's inner spark with the Godhead... or something like that (St. Teresa of Avila expresses a similiar idea in her book "The Interior Castle" when she likens the soul to a crystalline/diamond-like palace within which God resides). The idea being that the unenlightened ones, at death, have their spark tossed back down into reality and are forced to keep living a multitude of lives (this concept strikes me as being somewhat similar to the Buddhist concept of Samsara). I guess what I'm trying to say is that for those few moments it felt as if I had become an almost archetypal figure acting out a Biblical parable of sorts (a lepidopteran remix of "The Good Samaritan" one could say: perhaps I could also relate it to Aesop's fable of "The Lion and the Thorn"). For those fleeting seconds it felt as if I had reached some sort of enlightenment, escaped from the wheel of Karma, transcended reality itself... but such moments are fleeting, all too fleeting. In any event, I now think that the divine spark within every being (or, at the very least, my being) is butterfly-shaped.