The first one landed on me when I was about two. I was standing in the backyard of the house on Webster Street. The garden was full of mixed light, neighborhood noises and wonder. I was so fully absorbed, I wasn’t even me when I felt what I thought was a kiss. I looked down and saw a Monarch butterfly had landed on my finger.
I can still feel it walk my left arm. I stared as the strange creature relaxed and slowly flapped its wings. It was saying something to me, I don’t know what, but from then on, butterflies were my spirit animal, or at least, my spirit insect.
By twenty-three, I’d shunted my Catholicism and fully explored agnosticism, materialism, atheism, existentialism, and finally arrived at nihilism. Of all the philosophies I’ve held, this one scored lowest on the fun points scale. The mental image that most often came to mind back then was of a desert, a desert so empty there wasn’t even a scorpion to sting me.
In that utterly empty time, I became ungrounded, lost friends and gutted my confidence. I had no idea what I was or what made me. I became agoraphobic and drove an unvarying rut from work to home and back again.
One day, full of self-loathing, upbraiding myself for my weakness, fleshing out my hate of self, I went out into our small backyard. It was about as far as the agoraphobic me could possibly venture.
I stood there feeling the afternoon sun, hating the vulnerability of being outside, hating and afraid, when a large monarch butterfly flew over the redwood slat fence from the left hand side of the yard. We had no flowers. I wasn’t sure why it had come at all.
The butterfly flew around the yard, circling ever closer and closer to me. I watched it and, after some time, had a clear impression it wanted something. Not knowing what to do, I reached out my arm, the same arm on which the butterfly landed when I was little, and it landed and stood gently flapping its wings as we both enjoyed the light spring breeze. Then, it stayed, showing no signs of leaving. I had no idea what it was doing as it explored my arm but after awhile, I gently raised my arm to make it fly away. It lifted from me and circled my head, circling me some more. It wouldn’t leave me alone. Unsure, I reached out my right arm where it landed and resumed its same ritual exploration. Back and forth it flew from arm to arm, ministering. This went on for at least one surreal hour that only ended when I heard my roommate as she came rather noisily through the front door. Upon that clamor, the butterfly flapped its wings and flew silently away.
I don’t know why, but my agoraphobia disappeared that day. I’ve had many strange and wonderful encounters with butterflies ever since. I don’t know why.