My mother used to recount little incidents from my childhood. She told me that when I was 2 ½, she went to the hospital to give birth to my brother. I stayed with my aunt and uncle (my mother’s brother and his wife). In those days, routine hospital stays after giving birth were 5 days long. Children were considered too germ-ridden to set foot in hospitals unless they were the patients. My father visited me and took me to the hospital parking lot so my mother could wave to me from her hospital window. Back then, you could actually open windows. I was inconsolable much of the time and asked for her constantly as I was too young to understand why I had been abandoned. Homecoming day finally arrived and instead of joyful hugs and kisses from me as my mother had anticipated, I turned my grumpy little back on her and refused to even look her in the eye. She was spurned by a two year old. Spurn: Latin derivation = spernere = to despise. A contemptuous rejection. Balk at, deselect, disapprove, negative, nix, pass, pass up, refuse, reject, reprobate, repudiate, decline, throw out, throw over, turn down, dis. I was only 2 but I turned my back on the one I loved the most when I felt that I had been abandoned.
Turn the calendar ahead 31 years. I’m the married mother of 2 young children and I’m dealing with a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. My church is praying for me. I’m praying for me and feeling very sorry for myself. And smoking many more cigarettes a day than ever. We’re talking a pack and a half a day habit. Now, I had been praying about my addiction to nicotine for months before I got sick. But that went out the window when my immune system broke down and my eyes started crossing, my arms and face went numb and I was in terrible pain. I had much bigger problems to worry about than my bad habit – I’d received the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. But when my healing took place, it was the cigarettes that went. And virtually overnight and when I was least expecting it. I had absolutely no craving ever again. I kind of shook my head in wonder. I was happy that I didn’t crave tobacco anymore and grateful to God for the healing but “What about the MS?”, I thought. “What about that?”
And then, gradually, I started feeling better. The fog from the awful fatigue and dizziness lifted and I for a while I thought the MS was gone for good. Of course, it wasn’t. And throughout the next 10 years or so I had some real challenges from the disease. For a time I lost so much of my vision that my doctor thought I might have a brain tumor pressing on my optic nerves. Multiple Sclerosis has at one time or another affected every bodily function you can name, including my ability to hear and think. But then, eventually, the attacks came less frequently. I still felt the effects of the disease but I was able to function well enough to work. I asked two different neurologists if smoking had any effect on MS. Both of them answered the same way. That there was no proof that smoking cigarettes had any effect on the disease at all. Of course, recent research has proven a direct link between smoking and worsening of the symptoms of MS. And there’s even speculation that smoking may be more than a contributory factor and that smoking may actually trigger the disease in individuals pre-disposed genetically to MS.
Life was enough of a challenge for me when my husband at the time was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Although the situation was hopeless, chemotherapy and all that goes with it started immediately. Within months I felt overwhelmed. That’s when death came to live in our house. It ate dinner with us, took up a lot of space on the couch and slept in the house at night, even when I couldn’t. Death was in the shower, in my car on my ride to work. It waited for me at the front door at the end of the day. I had not stopped believing in God. I believed He’d let me down. Me. The faithful daughter, the Sunday school teacher, choir singer, meeting attender! I felt that I’d been abandoned and our lives had been left in the hands of oncologists, infusion centers, M.R.I. technicians and therapists. I couldn’t pray and I didn’t worship. I got mad and turned away from my God in the same childish way I’d rejected my mother.
Then one sunny September day, we decided to get out of the house. I knew it was going to be a long, cold winter and it was too nice to stay at home. Our destination was North Stonington in the hope that the Green Corn Festival would be like the pow-wow’s we’d taken the kids to when there were young. But it was crowded, there were lines for food and nowhere to sit except bleachers which neither of us could climb. We left there and headed to Stonington village to a little tavern we remembered called Noah’s for some lunch. Apparently Noah’s has become a “destination spot” for tourists and we were told there would be a 30 minute wait. To try to salvage the day, we decided to go to the beach and got back on the road toward Misquamicut.
A strong storm had recently torn the deck awning away at Paddy’s so we’d have to sit in the sun. That was fine with us and we ordered our burgers and beer. We were not at our original destination or even our second choice but I was content. We had left death at home with the dog for the day. The weather was pleasant and warm and the sun sparkled brightly on the ocean.
As I enjoyed the view I started noticing a few Monarch butterflies flying down the beach, heading south along the water’s edge. Then a few more, then several, followed by hundreds, maybe more. A trickle, grew to a river of beautiful, orange and black Monarch butterflies, flying along together about twenty feet off the ground, a little above my eye level as I sat on the deck. After a while I stopped trying to count them and simply enjoyed watching their procession, astonished that most of the other diners around me barely looked up from their lunch.
I’d heard that monarch butterflies migrated to Mexico for the winter. In my ignorance, I remember thinking, “So? Birds migrate, too. It’s instinct.” But what struck me the most, as I watched these little creatures, was that they were not flying with intention. They were flying almost sideways, as if they were being swept along by an unseen hand. I’d always loved watching butterflies in my garden as they flitted from flower to flower sipping nectar. I was so curious about them that I’d even followed a Yellow Swallowtail at sunset, trying to discover where she would sleep for the night. I watched in amazement as she tucked herself into a blue spruce and gently folded back her wings to roost, completely still. But these Monarchs didn’t actually appear to be flying, rather it looked like they were being swept along as if riding on an unseen current. It looked like they were riding a river of wind that I couldn’t see or feel. And I couldn’t understand why, if they were going to Mexico, they were traveling along a beach, heading south as if to Florida. I reasoned that if I (with the limitation of my human reasoning) were going to fly to Mexico, I’d get on a plane and head in a south westerly direction, but definitely west. I wouldn’t fly south, down the east coast.
My curiosity piqued, I looked up their flight path on the internet and their coastal migration made sense. The Monarchs in our part of the continent fly along the coast and then cross over as small a body of water possible to get to their final destination, a 60 square mile area in the Mexican highlands. And as they travel the coast, they can stop in puddles for sips of salty water along the way. I learned that the butterflies I saw in Rhode Island had never been in Mexico. Scientists know that many of the butterflies survive the entire 3,500 mile trip as they have found butterflies in Mexico that had been tagged in Minnesota.
Whatever calls to the Monarchs on a particular day and gets them to start their journey is still not known. But I know that I felt my heart re-open to God that day. I felt that I’d been watching His loving hand call and guide those butterflies. It didn’t appear to be instinct or free-will. They were on a journey to a place they’d never been. They didn’t know why they were going or what perils they’d encounter along the way. I hadn’t chosen the journey I was on. I didn’t know where my life was going and I had been angry at God because I’d felt abandoned. That day, I turned back to Him, began to worship again. I returned to church, I sang in the choir. I won’t say that terrible and frightening things didn’t happen along that journey. But also amazing and wonderful things that were beyond anything I could have imagined. I met and married my husband, Leo and became step-mother to the third child I’d always wanted. My children have married and we’re blessed with 6 grandchildren. Because I trusted God to guide my way, just as he led those butterflies home.