75: My Butterfly

75: My Butterfly

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

My Butterfly

I am convinced that these heavenly beings exist and that they provide unseen aid on our behalf.

~Billy Graham

I’ve never claimed to know what happens to us on our way to the final destination, whatever it may be. Probably unlike most, I find a sense of solace in not knowing, in accepting that our time on this planet entitles us to nothing. The natural order of things dictates that it is best some things go unsolved. But something extremely curious happened recently.

I am a teacher, and I’ve spent the better part of a decade discussing literature, grammar, and writing with middle school students at a private school in the South. In my classroom, I’ve always subscribed to the notion that a good teacher plays no favorites.

But Emma was special.

She perpetually exuded a youthful exuberance and a steady ease with all aspects of the world around her. When she looked at you with her dark eyes and flashed her trademark smile, you walked away knowing she genuinely cared. She dedicated her life to helping anyone she could, from her own brother, to a first-time acquaintance, to a ladybug that might have found itself caught in a spider web.

When a car accident killed her at age sixteen, I spent a good day or two in outright denial. How could anything possibly extinguish the spirit that was Emma? And I was not alone. The sheer outpouring of stories from colleagues, friends, former students, camp counselors, coaches, about the many ways this young girl had touched their lives was both astounding and admirable. They helped to soften the blow a bit, but none of us could truly express the impact Emma had made during her short time on this planet.

And then I was given that final opportunity, when Emma’s family asked me to deliver the eulogy at her service. My first thought was, of course I’ll do it. I’d do anything for Emma. My second thought was, how in the world will I be able to pull this off? My third, and many subsequent thoughts thereafter, was a cataclysmic, unintelligible jumble of outright panic.

It wasn’t the words that worried me. I knew that such a unique and vibrant girl would basically write the piece for me. Instead, it was the prospect of speaking about such an emotional topic before a packed church. And there was the underlying fear that, despite wanting to deliver a few minutes of perfection for Emma, I simply didn’t have the strength or the fortitude to give her what she deserved.

But I pushed on anyway and, after writing the eulogy, I began practicing the hard part. I read and re-read the words throughout the day prior to her service. I performed it in front of the mirror. I read it to my dogs, to my girlfriend. I even dialed up loved ones in distant states to deliver Emma’s eulogy over the phone. And each time, I was met with the same fate: a few unimpeded lines followed by noticeable cracks in my voice and long bouts of uncontrollable sobbing. I found it impossible to separate my emotions for sweet Emma from the words I wanted to share with the community. I was never able to reach the final lines.

The folly continued into the next day, and with each re-reading it became clear my efforts were an exercise in futility. I simply didn’t have the strength to pull it off, and my anxiety level was reaching the boiling point. With only an hour to go before Emma’s service, I decided to give it one more shot. Silently I asked Emma, possibly the most resilient person I’d ever met, to lend me some of her strength. But secretly, I had doubts even she could help me.

I was wrong.

I headed out to my patio for the final practice round and began reading the first few lines to my girlfriend. The sun was warm but pleasant on my back. About a paragraph into the piece I felt the familiar scratchiness in my throat and the sting of tears forming behind my eyes.

And then suddenly, as if in perfect response, I saw her fluttering.

Her black wings danced through the air like patches of velvet and skimmed across the top of my page. A blue and purple blotch on her back, the shape of a large, round eye, seemed to wink at me briefly as she lit on the myrtle flowers and listened to me. I paused for a moment — just long enough for the recognition to sink in — and then a feeling I can only describe as pure serenity washed over me. I finished the reading without flaw and folded the pages into my jacket pocket, for I knew everything would be okay.

When I arrived at the church and examined some of Emma’s belongings, which had been displayed in her memory, I couldn’t help but smile when I noticed one of her drawings hanging high above a collage of photos dedicated to the loss of her first tooth.

It was a purple butterfly.

And when I rose in the pulpit to deliver my words to the parish, that same feeling of serenity given to me by my butterfly washed over me.

My knowledge of the true nature of eternity still falls short, and for as long as I’m given the privilege to grace this Earth I shall never strive to understand that which is not meant for my understanding. But every time a butterfly flickers and sways through my yard on the warm summer breeze, I will know without question that Emma has dropped by to check on me.

~C.G. Morelli

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