Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sudden Angels Part 6: Two Butterflies

Last Sunday I ripped my closet to pieces, looking for a scarf.

I was getting ready for a farewell lunch with my friend Nancy and was determined to wear the gift she gave me at Christmas. I had finally bought a colorful blouse to match it because I haven't worn anything but black and white for years. I thought wearing her gift would be a significant statement about our accidental friendship--how she'd gotten me out of my shell, how she'd gotten me to wear something bright.

Because we're both children's authors, we were seated several years ago at a long table with our books at a kindergarten teachers' convention. I'd recently moved to Minnesota and knew almost no one. Wallflower that I am, I was frozen in my chair.

Then Nancy walked down to my end and introduced herself, the kind of risk with a stranger that paralyzes me. We chatted tenuously at first, but I was smiling by the end. Our quiet personalities breathed easily with each other, as if we were always an intentional discovery, safe and understood in the way of true friends.

Back to the scarf. I looked everywhere, getting more desperate. Because we move next week, I knew it would likely be our last lunch for a long time. Maybe forever. You never know. That scarf was nowhere. So I reached for my standard black and white clothing, feeling guilty, worried that she'd think I didn't appreciate her thoughtful gift.

We had a long lunch, catching up on the good and bad things we'd been through during the past months. Several hours passed, and still we hadn't covered everything. We returned to my house and exchanged hugs and promises at the front door. She got in her car and delayed, rummaging in her purse or whatever.

I stood on the step, waiting to wave goodbye. I waited and waited while she searched.

Then a tiger swallowtail butterfly flew up out of our lilies. Its beautiful yellow wings shimmered in the sunlight as it zoomed toward her car and zipped up and down the length of it in a spontaneous blessing.

There was more.

From the other garden, a monarch darted over the lawn toward the first one. I know butterflies are becoming rare so seeing two at once made a breathtaking moment. The swallowtail backed away. The monarch circled closer until they flew in arcs, crisscrosssing each other's paths. I believe it was an orange and yellow ballet about unexpected friendship.

Later that day, I found the scarf behind a pile of shoes, but it didn't matter anymore. Now I understood the gift was not the scarf. It was Nancy.

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Monday, July 13, 2015


I don't know how many times I walked by without seeing it.

An evening stroll three years ago with our dog Maria finally got my attention. She darted left, yanking me toward the wrought iron fence. I thought she'd spotted a scurrying chipmunk.

Now I'm not so sure what quick creature charmed her. When I looked down where her nose strained through the fence, I saw a fairy village nestled among the flowers. It was sweetly complete with several houses. I was mesmerized.

When summer comes, we visit often, noting how the accessories expand as the fairies prosper. This week our trip coincided with our neighbors' young children. As they approached, Luca (who's probably 4 1/2) called, "Karen, you have to believe." His sister Petra (who's likely 3) ran to point out the tea set. Their sister Filomena (who recently turned 1) watched wide-eyed and silent. I told them that Maria found the spot before I did, and they looked at her with wonder, imagining the possibilities of a dog who sees fairies. "I haven't seen them yet," I said, "but I know I will."

"You have to believe," Luca repeated. "They're very, very fast." Like a flash, he pointed into the branches behind us. As we turned, he said, "I might have seen one!" Petra wanted to know why it didn't fly down to the houses.

Abby, their babysitter, and I looked at each other. I let her take the lead. "Maybe it was afraid of Maria," Abby suggested.

"She would look as big as a dinosaur to a little fairy," I added. The children nodded their heads.

Petra slipped behind the fence. "The chicken fell down," she explained, righting it by the henhouse. I assured her the fairies appreciated her help. She beamed.

Our adventure over, they headed east for home. Maria and I went toward the Mississippi. I thought about that, how I walk west, my eyes always up, expecting the wide, rushing river to be our destination. Somewhere in our American gene structure, we're programmed to believe all good things are toward the horizon. We are pre-ordained to believe powerful things happen in the distance.

But a lot is going on at my feet. If I'll stop and look.

We'll soon be moving away, and these children will forget us, the people next door with the dog who spotted fairies. So I'll have them come over for popsicles with Maggie and me. I'll tell them the tiny tent in our garden doesn't get visitors anymore because of Maria. I'll ask them to put it in their yard for the traveling fairies. They will because they believe.

That's how a meaningful life begins. A boy who believes he saw a fairy flitting through branches will grow up to believe he can master a geometry problem that seems impossible at first. A girl who believes straightening a toppled chicken will help a farming fairy will grow into a girl who confidently helps a friend solve a hard problem. Filomena, quite possibly, will believe that amazing things happen anywhere.

Inevitably in a year or so, they'll ask their parents where the little tent came from. I hope Joe and Katie will say, "From a neighbor who believed in fairies, but more than that, she believed in you."

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