Thursday, July 28, 2011

The butterfly effect

(Originally published 9/11/09)

"The ancients regarded the butterfly as so perfect an emblem of the soul that in Greece the word "Psyche," which properly means the human soul, was used also to signify a butterfly."

Day Entertainments and Other Functions (Butterick Publishing Company, 1896)

On this day, September 11, 2008, I am ressurecting this post from last August. I am seeing the effect of tiny gestures... little changes... and how there is a fascinating ripple effect created every time we perform even the simplest duties. Mine will be making my daughter's favorite mac and cheese tonight. Hoping you will "flap your wings" today, too....

The "butterfly effect" refers to the idea that a butterfly's wings influence tiny changes that may eventually change the weather in significant ways. The idea that one butterfly could have such a profound ripple effect on subsequent events is introduced in a 1952 short story by Ray Bradbury. Scientists later developed a theory, hypothesizing that one flap of a butterfly's wings could change the course of weather forever.

One step further: what about the "butterfly effect" of the soul/heart/hands? Inspired creations -- do they create ripples in the human atmosphere, causing changes all around us?

I believe they do. Last year, a gentleman called me with an unusual request. His brother-in-law had recently passed away, and he wanted to send me some of his brother-in-law's favorite shirts, for me to cut apart and use to make teddy bears for his widow and children. I made them, using the words and tags that were symbols of his personality, and his sister-in-law received them as a gift, and wrote me a note of appreciation. She belonged to a widows' bereavement group, where she mentioned the gift she received. Another member of the group contacted me to create bears for her sons and mother-in-law. I made them ,and received a very sweet note from her family as well.

If the "flapping of a wing" could be compared to the simple gesture of the brother, trying to give a meaningful gift to his sister-in-law, and all the bears this act generated are kept by children and grandchildren, and stories are shared about the loved ones they lost, and interest is sparked about who they were and what they stood for, and...

Well, you get the idea.

A woman recently shared a beautiful story with me about a childhood butterfly encounter near her home in the Philippines. As she walked barefoot in the grass one day, she stopped and stared at a beautiful butterfly, as it circled her, and then slowly flew down toward the ground. When it landed, it poised itself on the head of a snake, dangerously close to her bare foot. She felt the butterfly was an angel, protecting her from the snake. She ran away, and was not harmed. Now, this same woman is my son's physical therapist. She told me this story when a butterfly flew past them during a recent session in our backyard.

We all have our butterflies, our messages from the other side, our "burning bushes". The effect is as far-reaching as it is mysterious. A beautiful book by Alice Walker comes to mind. Creativity abounds in this literary masterpiece. I am the first to admit, it isn't for everyone, but do take a taste of it, in the library at least... It begins, "In the old country in South America, Carlotta's grandmother, Zede, had been a seamstress, but really more of a sewing magician..."

I offer this sensual passage, also from the book quoted at the beginning of this post, with suggestions for hosting a butterfly luncheon. I also encourage you to flap your wings today, for the benefit of all humankind.

"At the place of each guest was a little "bonboniere" of yellow satin, upon which was poised a large butterfly, trembling on its wire as though just about to take flight.. No two were alike, and each guest claimed to have been favored in the one assigned to her, as across the wings in quaint gilt lettering and in zigzag lines she read her own name."


  1. That's a wonderful book, one I read probably about 18 years ago. Perhaps I'll get it out and read it again...something I rarely do.

  2. Anonymous5:17 PM

    that was a beautiful thing - to make bears out of clothes to help the family. :)