By Susan Winter Fledderus
Maybe it is because I had a chance to visit the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory again this summer. Or maybe I’m just more aware of my own limitations, tiredness, and shortcomings the longer the current pandemic lingers and the uncertainties for the fall loom. Or maybe it is because I continue to hear from others who sometimes feel they are limping along the best they can despite past traumas or who share stories of overcoming and soaring, their scars no longer hindering their flight.
Whatever the reasons, I’m remembering this previously published blog from five years ago, and decided to share it again.
I had a chance to visit the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory this summer. It was beautiful! So many amazing tropical butterflies filled the air with their vivid colours and delicate movements.
I lingered for several hours seeking out the various species and trying to photograph them as they posed on colourful flowers and vibrant greenery. I was amazed by the ones emerging from their chrysalises, stretching and drying their new, beautiful wings, and taking their first fluttering flights.
I was struck by how many of the other butterflies had damaged wings. Many flying throughout the greenhouse seemed to have tattered wings, with broken-off swallowtails and frayed edges. And yet, they continued to flutter along, moving from blossom to blossom, or finding a place to rest.
When asked about one battered-looking morpho butterfly, a naturalist simply said it’s near the end of its life. I wonder if in the wild, such butterflies would be easy prey for birds or other predators, while in the safety of the conservatory, they are able to live and thrive despite the injuries and wear and tear of life.
I wonder too how many of us humans are similarly getting along in life despite the destructive effects of time, accidents and injuries. My old shoulder injury that still aches at times and the shadowy pain of past griefs and current stresses might not be as visible as the wear and tear on the butterfly wings, but can leave me feeling like I too am navigating through life with tattered wings.
And so many people I know, when we begin to share how we’re really doing, reveal that they too are coping with injuries—physical, emotional or spiritual—or are worn down with problems in relationships or other chronic stressors. Perhaps the damage isn’t enough to kill us, but it leaves us vulnerable. Most of us, like the butterflies, eventually end up flying with tattered wings.
At first I found myself turning away from these broken creatures—I only wanted photos of the whole, beautiful ones. But so often I found myself zooming into a beautiful scene and taking shots before I even noticed how damaged the butterfly was.
And eventually I began to realize that the beauty of these broken ones may be all the greater when we recognize the courage and resilience it takes to continue on, broken, but living the lives we are created for.
Susan Winter Fledderus is a Clinical Therapist with Shalem Mental Health Network
This blog was originally posted in September 2015. Photo of Rice Paper Butterfly by Susan Winter Fledderus