(Submitted by Amanda)
When a life is finished I have always been afraid of death. There is nothing that terrifies me more than the thought of ceasing to exist in this world. Over the course of my young life, I have developed severe anxiety around the notion of death, and this has been a nearly constant struggle throughout my daily goings on.
More often than not, my preferred response to this fear is to either try not to think about the inevitable end of everyone around me, myself included, or to shut out the world so I won’t have to feel the pain of losing someone I love.
Today, however, I was driving home from a weekend with friends, and I decided to take the long, scenic route along the mighty Saint John River, as I often do when I’m driving alone. During these drives I enjoy speeding along with the windows down and my favorite music blaring loudly, the sounds and the scents of the warm air overcoming my senses and filling me with a sober high that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
This particular day I was doing the same, enjoying the beautiful view of the river and passing the small communities along the way. As I was driving along I saw a beautiful yellow butterfly flying straight toward my car, and I blinked hard, wincing as I drove into the creature. I knew I must have killed it.
This caused me to think about how quickly life ends for us all, and how unexpected it seems to be. I allowed tears to slowly stream down my face underneath my sunglasses as the guilt of causing a life to end crept into my heart.
As per my usual response, after about two or three minutes I dried my eyes and tried to forget about the pain and fear that I felt concerning death. A few moments later I pulled over in a gorgeous spot to watch the river. As I got out of my car I saw a yellow flash out of the corner of my eye. I looked down in front of the car and there was the beautiful yellow butterfly, fluttering around weakly on the ground. A small gasp escaped my lips and I bent down, noting the intricate purple and black woven into the design of the wings. It was alive, but obviously injured and unable to fly away.
My eyes welled up as I watched it struggle to take flight, and I thought to myself, ‘How could I have done this? It was an accident! It made it a few inches above the ground and latched itself onto a blade of grass. As it stayed there I felt somewhat more peaceful because I know that that is a familiar place for a butterfly to be and that even though it was going to die because it can’t fly to get food, at least it will be in a familiar place while it dies. In that moment I cared for the butterfly, and I loved it. My stomach churned with the sadness of watching this life end in front of me, but the peace settled into me in knowing that I had loved it.
I got back into my car and drove away, thinking for the rest of the drive about what had just happened. I know what you’re thinking – ‘What is this girl thinking? It’s just an insect. It doesn’t even feel any emotion!’ – and this is completely correct. However, this story could be applied to my fear of death. For the first time, I felt at peace with the idea that death is inevitable for all of us and that no one will ever be able to fully control it. I hit that butterfly by accident and I felt sick to my stomach getting out and watching it die in front of me, but the fact that I had been brave enough to get out and allow myself to feel the sadness and think about the life that was ending, I realized that that one single butterfly was loved by at least one person – me.
I know now with certainty that death will always be inevitable, no matter how much I try to avoid thinking about it, but that if a person is dying, what matters most is that that person was loved by even just one person and that someone will remember them. That notion is so much better than any pain-free life where I’m avoiding companionship. Truth be told, companionship is the ultimate sacrifice. Even though it hurts us so much to connect with people because death will cause them to leave us and we will have to feel pain, what is so important to remember is that that person knew that you loved them. That way, as they die they can think about the fact that they are loved, and you, in turn, can feel at peace with their death, knowing that your love was the best thing that you could give in the world.
I will never forget that yellow butterfly who died today, attached to a blade of grass on the side of the road, next to the mighty Saint John River because it helped me see what my role in loving is and why it is necessary to love others. It is the ultimate sacrifice. The pain is raw and terrible, but the reward is the knowledge that the person you loved knows they will be remembered.