Farewell to the tiniest

After dinner Peter and I buried the butterfly; a small grave scooped out with a spoon beneath the butterfly bush. For the past five weeks, I’d continued to replace the wilted flowers with fresh and fill the bottle cap daily with sugar water. Conflicted about keeping the butterfly captive but knowing that it would not survive if freed, I’d shift the makeshift container to the screened in porch so that it could feel the breeze and warm in the sun.

Slowly its once gaudy wings grew drab as the blue scales rubbed away. Initially quite active, it now spent most of the day clinging to the ribs of the overturned salad spinner. Yesterday morning I spotted it atop a spray of goldenrod. By late afternoon it was back on the bottom of the enclosure, listing to one side and twitching almost imperceptibly. Its time had come to an end.

The grief I feel is totally out of proportion, as outsize as the spirit this little insect seemed to possess. The longer it lived, the more unreasonably attached I had become. I didn’t just anthropomorphize, I practically mythologized.

Crazy, I know. Immoderate to the extreme. I have always admired insects, although never given a second thought to quickly dispatching the blood sucking varieties. And now, one little battered butterfly, through no design of its own, had stolen my affections.

When we care about something, it takes on more value. Sometimes we attach both meaning and great significance to that which we are invested in. These are human constructs, and represent both the best and worst of our species. It is good to care, but absurd to make it all personal, and more foolish still to think that we can exercise control.

By nursing a tiny butterfly, I, for the briefest of times, played puppet master. I experienced the feeling of power that comes with keeping another alive. And in turn, I felt the devastation when my best intentions were no longer enough.

Invariably (and yes, mine is a secular viewpoint), despite all our tinkering and interventions, nature will run its course; life will give way to death. This, I understand. But what my head says, my heart doesn’t want to hear.

14 responses to “Farewell to the tiniest

  1. mum. I think the sadness over the passing of your butterfly makes sense. the tenacity of such a delicate creature (wings that with the tiniest touch can cease to function correctly) can be awe inspiring. I hesitate to be contrary but I don’t think you were being a puppet master……….. you were being compassionate and loving and providing a creature with a safe place.

    and I will add, I found myself weeping over the loss of Olive yet again last night. I don’t think the pain of that loss will ever pass… and I’m sure many many people would say “oh, she was just a dog”…. any loss of life, no matter how small and transient it may be, can touch our hearts ❤

  2. Sweetie, I am tough but tender hearted, there is no way around it. I miss Olive too and also still cry when I think of her. Sometimes I think it is the smallest things that hurt us the most; our protective nature kicks into overdrive. I know you have always looked out for the underdog (I wonder where that expression comes from…)

    love you,

  3. I would also have a good cry over this. I wasn’t even that attached and it made me sad. I also want you to know, though, that reading your posts highlighted for me the power of one life, one being, even if that being is not fully living the way it was “designed” to live, and that it can still bring beauty and love and purpose to the world. I needed that. Thank you.

  4. Marie, thank you for your kind thoughts–somehow, by explaining your own perspective, I now feel better as well. “Beauty, love and purpose”–the best of life in a nutshell.


  5. Jem and Marie, You said it so well there is little I can add. Linnea, your writing is so beautiful, as you are also.

  6. Beautifully written tribute to one of natures “warriors.” While not given the choice of what is handed to us, fighting for what is important is made easier when surrounded by the love and care required to push on. I am moved by your writing once again. sending love

    • Lorraine, love, sustenance and support go a long way–and can take many forms. I hope you get enough as you continue to fight for all that you believe.

      love, Linnea

  7. Pedal to the metal, Linnea. No love is wasted. To paraphrase Philip Larkin, by way of Christopher Hitchens, love is the only thing that survives us. We need to pour it onto the world while we are here, on any living thing.
    Love love love,

  8. The comments here add another deep dimension to this incredible story that already has so many layers. Even with tears coming down for this lovely butterfly, for Linnea’s good judgment, amazing strength, and tender heart, and also for Olive, I feel fortunate to know that wonderful people have so much compassion and good sense in this world.

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