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Every spring, Chris and I order butterfly caterpillars. We have an inexpensive, one gallon aquarium, where we keep them safe and snug, while they munch themselves to ten times their size, finally go into chrysalis, and then - the butterfly.
Usually, everything goes very well. We watch them with awe...eagerly awaiting the beautiful painted lady butterfly that we know will emerge. They hatch...they dry their wings ... and then Chris, oh so carefully, places them on his finger, gently releasing them outside. He always says, "Goodbye my baby. Be happy! Be safe!"
This year, things didn't turn out the way we'd hoped. We got our five caterpillars, and gave them a snug, safe "womb" in which to develop. We watched them with delight as they grew and grew, finally making that long journey up the sides of their jars to the lid, where they formed their "J" to go into the chrysalis stage. With anticipation, we awaited the hatching, eager to see those beautiful orange and black wings spread out in flight. But, something went wrong.
Two butterflies were born with mangled, twisted wings. They couldn't fly. I waited a day, giving them sugar water, to see if the process was just taking longer than usual. Things didn't improve. Finally, I took them out into the bright sunlight, thinking that God's healing sun would dry their little wings. That's when I noticed they didn't have all of their legs. Sadly, I told Chris to put them in the rose garden and leave them, hoping he wouldn't be there to see the inevitable: a bird swooping down to capture them to feed her young. Such is the way of nature I reasoned. It's the only way.
As Chris was dutifully taking them down to place them by the roses, totally innocent of what I was asking him to do to his beloved butterflies, it occurred to me: nature doesn't HAVE to be this way. They don't have to be "perfect" in the literal sense of the word. If they couldn't pollinate and procreate, their right to exist wasn't automatically negated. They could just be themselves, giving pleasure to a six-year-old little boy who loved them, and was willing to turn them loose simply for their own good.
Yes, their wings were mangled, and they flopped when they tried to walk, but they had their own beauty, their own value, their own perfection.
Chris and I are keeping the butterflies until they die a natural death. I know it will be hard for Chris when they die. He wont' be able to look for them next spring, thinking that every painted lady he sees is his beloved Sam or Lou, but he will learn a very valuable lesson, and I'm pleased to learn it with him.
You see, Chris is adopted. My husband and I were the seventh couple called. Chris was headed for Children's Services because he wasn't "perfect." He was born with a moderately severe unilateral clefting of the lip, gum, and hard and soft palates. While he was carrying his butterflies down to the rose garden, I suddenly thought – what if we had not been contacted, and Chris had not come home to me? I would not be here, in this garden, enjoying the unique beauty and perfection of my son. I would not know of his goodness, his sweetness, his gentleness, and my life would not be as full and rich as it has become.
I called Chris to me, and oh so carefully, we returned Sam and Lou to their "womb" for safe keeping. Within their imperfection dwelt perfection; their existence, a lesson so gratefully learned. I looked at my son, and saw him smile. I think that he understood long before I did.
Debra Shiveley Welch