I could not let it go, this obsession with the butterfly I lifted from the sidewalk and placed inside the flowers. Should I have taken him home? Was he still alive? Did he freeze to death in the unforgiving frost of the night?
My lovely friend Brenda suggested that I return to the place I left him to see if he was still there. If he wasn’t, she reasoned, then it might mean he was able to fly away. If he was, then I could stop feeling guilty about not having done more for him.
The place I left him was the planter outside swanky Financial District restaurant Far Niente. I approached the steps where I had initially nearly stepped on him and sprinted to the planter. I held my breath as I parted the branches and felt immediate disappointment when I didn’t see him where I’d left him. But the slow flap of broken wings drew my attention and the butterfly had managed to crawl up higher into a twig during the night.
He was still there, still alive. I almost cried.
I gently nudged him into a plastic Starbucks cup and snapped the lid on, making sure the hole was open enough to allow him to breathe. I wrapped my freezing palms around the cup and cradled it close to my body, hoping to warm him up. It was so cold and the wind was brutal. I was due for a shift at work, so I brought the butterfly with me. As I neared my cafe, I passed by some folks soliciting donations for World Wildlife Fund. One of them asked me, “What’s your favorite animal?” I responded by holding up the cup and saying, “Butterflies!” I stopped to talk to him, asking his advice on what to do with my new friend. I didn’t want to keep him in a cup for the entire eight-hour duration of my shift, it seemed needlessly cruel. Inside the cup, my butterfly had warmed up enough to attempt flight — I suppose his wings weren’t broken, but cold.
I bargained with the little creature in the cup. “If I put you down in this planter, and you’re still here when I finish work, I’ll take you home with me. If you’re gone, then I’ll know you’re fine and you made your way south.” My new WWF friend agreed that this seemed like the best course of action.
Kneeling into the dirt, I opened the lid and tipped the cup onto a bright yellow flower. The butterfly stepped out and I removed the cup. For a moment, it seemed like he might be content to stay there, but as I stood up, he spread his wings and lifted up into the sky. A small crowd gathered to watch him fly away and I could hardly stop myself from crying.
Twice in my life I’ve been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and be able to help out a creature smaller than myself. Twice I’ve been reminded that life is so much bigger than any of us can comprehend. Twice I’ve been reminded that the smallest actions can have the biggest impact and there are signs all around us that we aren’t alone.
Twice I’ve been able to save a butterfly. Maybe that means I can save myself.