People are always talking. Make no mistake, though, an effervescing flow of words is not an indication of factual accuracy or any connection to reality. Normally, when someone babbles on about something, spewing inaccurate information gleaned off of Pinterest or a half-remembered Mental Floss blurb, I simply nod my head and smile with my eyes. On the inside, I am clearly laying out reminders that I do NOT want to get involved in a discussion with this misguided scholar. Yet, publicly declared inaccuracies can serve as catalysts for useful thought.
Saturday I was out in the woods with a group. We were neither a Druid Cult nor mushroom hunters, but we were in the forest. A violet colored butterfly landed on the shoulder of a woman in our group, and the guy next to her transferred it to his index finger. He held out the butterfly to our pack, and we gawked and cooed. The man looked at his little, winged friend hitchhiking on his finger and said, “How’s your day goin’? Ya know you only get one.” Having not anticipated or planned for this moment, I had not brought anything remotely close to my poker face, and looking back I’m sure my face screwed into a pointed cone of confusion. The man looked around the group, and said, “Isn’t that right? Don’t butterflies only live for one day?”
For the sake of maintaining good group dynamics and with a commitment to achieving the greater good of the day’s group mission, I released the incredulous look on my face. I kept my Google-soaked, Wikipedia-dripping phone in my pocket and looked around as everyone murmured non-committed agreement. I made the decision to resist looking up the truth until after I separated from the group later that evening. Those eight hours of not knowing the pure truth were torture to me, but they opened by eyes and my mind to a better thought.
Later that night I confirmed the truth that nearly all butterflies live at least one week following their exit from the cocoon, and many species of butterflies live for months. I’m glad I didn’t pull out my smart phone to immediately eradicate the group ignorance. I’m glad I allowed myself to consider the possibility that I was wrong. I spent that afternoon and evening pondering the idea that perhaps butterflies really do go through the whole thing just for ONE DAY with the wings.
The Left Brain Lesson: apparently there is misinformation among humans about the lifespan of butterflies.
The Real Lesson: the lifespan of a winged butterfly is not one day; butterfly lives range from 5 days to 365 days. Similarly, there appears to be zero information among butterflies about their own life spans. Butterflies must not understand death. If butterflies understood death, then one species would spend all 5 of their winged days cursing the fact they weren’t born into the crowd that gets 365 days.
I don’t think that Galapagos tortoises realize they get more than 100 years to hang out here. We humans are the rare breed to be cursed with understanding the cold reality of our finite existence. Yet, we cannot be sure whether our life will be one of 22 years, 68 years, or more than 120 years. Still, we seem to saddle ourselves with trappings that wouldn’t be necessary if we stuck around this place for a thousand years.
We humans would make horrible butterflies. After everything we have done to survive our time as an egg, caterpillar, and pupa, when we finally emerge with our wings we seem to develop countless reasons for staying in the safety of our cocoon.
I think it’s the misinformation about us human butterflies that lead to our self-induced failure. We are led to believe that we always have more time. So, rather than reaching for the brass ring today, we organize our closets. Rather than striking out to capture our dream, we wait until after our degree is complete. Worst of all, we sometimes compare our wings to the wings of different butterfly humans around us and say that perhaps, we were wrong to even think that our dream was meant for us. So, we compromise our dreams.
The great philosopher, racing driver, and furniture maker Jeff Skiver once said, “The moment you compromise a dream, it ceases to be one.”
It doesn’t matter how or why you landed on my page today, but as I look at you here, balanced on my finger and I see your beautiful wings, I have a question for you: ”How’s Your Life Goin’? Ya Know You Only Get One.”