I get butterflies in my stomach whenever life becomes uncertain. That jittery feeling seems to affect my entire being whenever I have to speak before an audience or enter a room filled with strangers that I must impress. The butterflies descend upon me when my observational skills and anxieties combine to warn me of impending tragedy. I felt the full force of such fluttering as rain fell relentlessly in my city for days and nights during hurricane Harvey. Those butterflies were rather indelicate with me each time my mother retreated into a cycle of psychosis and paranoia from her bipolar disorder. In those moments I felt as though I was suffocating under the weight of fear for the for life and spirit of my mom, but they also prepared me for the battles that ensued.
I love butterflies. They are beautiful and peaceful most of the time. The bring out my smiles and seem to brighten the world. Somehow using them to describe the jittery feeling that comes and goes with the worries of the world seems to be a kind of oxymoron, a ridiculous metaphor for the anxieties that we all feel. It underplays the pain that fear wreaks on our bodies and minds as we navigate through the ups and downs of life. It is one thing to get butterflies in our stomachs on a roller coaster where the outcome is fairly certain, but quite another to apply it to real life. We’ve all experienced or at least witnessed how horrific situations can come in the blink of an eye. The extent to which the butterflies invade our well-being depends greatly on what kinds of tragedies we have endured.
Someone who has battled cancer gets those butterflies each time he/she returns for tests to determine whether or not the offending disease has returned. A victim of violence is forever searching for signs of danger. I find myself feeling uncomfortable anytime my loved ones are traveling in a car. If I could encase them all in tanks rather than ordinary automobiles, I would. I become an eight year old child whose father died in a car wreck over and over again. Those butterflies overtake me and make it impossible to even breathe when I think too long and hard about the possibility that someone I love may be harmed just as my daddy was. I have had to learn how to use every aspect of my mind and body to chase the butterflies away when their warnings overwhelm me..
Right now the butterflies are gathering in my stomach with regard to the state of the world. I hear of earthquakes in Pakistan, floods in Italy, fires in the western United States and the nervous flicking of wings tickles my concerns. I observe the disunity and anger in my own country and the roar of flapping wings shouts warnings in my ears. I see suffering across the globe and those tiny creatures cause me to lose my balance, to stumble as I try to determine what I might do to help. I don’t want to simply surrender to those feelings that make me feel so uncomfortable, but I also flounder under the realization that I do not even know how I, as one person, may make any kind of difference when there is so much to be done.
I hate those butterflies, but I also love them. Their warnings are real. They tell me to be alert, to take a deep breath, to proceed with caution but to move forward nonetheless. They prepare me for what may come. They let me know that I do not have to be ambushed by unexpected surprises. I have learned how to overcome my own reluctance again and again. I know that I can make it through pain and sorrow. The butterflies simply allow me to be forewarned that tough times may be ahead. Perhaps I should simply surrender to them rather than fighting them as though their intent is to harm me. It really is okay to be engulfed now and again. Each of us will have those moments. We don’t have to be soldiers clad in armor. Admitting to our fears while also doing our duties can sometimes be the most productive way to face horror.
Perhaps we too often lose sight that the butterflies in our stomachs are a mechanism that helps us through the toughest of times. They warn us to be vigilant. They are a sign that we care. They are an alert system that measures how we are responding to the dangers in life. They are not an enemy, but rather a most remarkable form of protection for our well being. We would do well to heed the flapping of butterfly wings in our souls. We can use that energy to propel ourselves forward with more courage and stamina than we may have ever thought we possess.
Being stoic and resolute has a limited effect on bettering a situation. If we humans are to survive we need to be willing to speak of the butterflies in our stomachs. We will find in such admissions a commonality that spans the world. The woman in India whose home is so hot that her family cannot sleep knows of those butterflies. The young black man who is innocent of wrongdoing has felt those butterflies rising into his chest when he is stopped by police for some unknown reason. The refugee from a desolate country is overwhelmed by butterflies as he attempts to sneak his family across the border to a nation of greater freedom. If we begin to listen to the stories of butterflies rather than automatically judging those telling the tales, perhaps we will begin the process of making the world a place where the butterflies have to land less and less frequently in our stomachs. The butterflies are talking to us with each flap of their wings. I think it is time we listen.