The butterfly counts not months but moments,
And has time enough.
Beulah the butterfly contemplated this quote from Rabindranath Tagore as she set about her business. This wisdom filled her with much joy as she soared off on her journey northward. Not even Botticelli‘s palette could reproduce her lustrous peacock blue as she sparkled iridescently in the sunlit morning.
Flapping her magnificent wings, she felt a slight wafting in the wind, as it passed over her elegant body, creating an infinitesimal change in atmospheric pressure. This slight perturbation was enough to ….But, wait, we will find out soon enough….
Meanwhile, many miles away, Hannah looked for a conference seat. At this summer meeting of the International Chaos Theory in Kansas City, chaos itself often reigned. The assembled scientists and mathematicians fell into different theoretical camps, though they easily and happily enjoyed each other’s company at the local bars after the day’s taxing sessions.
During the sessions themselves, however, reputations and egos were on the line and tempers frequently flared. These were scholars at the cutting edge of their cutting edge field, and their varying and ofttimes contradictory views and calculations could result in spectacular intellectual wrestling. Trading shaming insults and even the occasional attempt at fisticuffs were not unknown.
The oversimplified essence of their science is that small changes in initial conditions can result eventually in large scale and unpredictable consequences. A classic example is the so-called butterfly effect – the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in one place can ultimately set off a tornado in a destination far, far away.
So here is Hannah. Arriving a tad late for the morning opening sessions, due to last night’s overindulgence in those delicious but very heady margaritas. The effects of that fourth one…who could have predicted? Well, she could have, some things are predictable after all, not everything is chaos….or is it? Looking around, Hannah saw that all the front row seats, her preferred position, were filled. If only she had arrived earlier, if only she hadn’t overslept, if only she hadn’t consumed that last drink. She took a seat beside a colleague with whom she had published a significant paper the year before. But Sam, her co-author, seemed indifferent to her, which surprised Hannah a great deal. Little did she know that Sam’s husband had just screamed at Sam over FaceTime, because of a broken umbrella. Seemingly an insignificant household detail but enough to sour Sam’s mood. Sam’s disgruntlement and lack of attention left Hannah feeling disrespected, so she decided to instead contact a different colleague to work with her on her next paper.
Who could predict that new paper would win Hannah and her co-author a prestigious prize the following year, while Sam’s reputation as an unpublished author languished?
That broken umbrella had poked through the garbage bag, causing rotten fruit to spill out in the driveway. This was the cause of the anger directed at Sam, who hadn’t noticed the umbrella rib tearing the bag. Meanwhile, the spoiled fruit had attracted a flurry of positive attention – it was a veritable butterfly feast! Beulah paused on her journey to indulge herself.
Because of her veering off the path, the air molecules once again changed their configuration, and thus the tornado that was predicted to head to Kansas City lost its momentum and petered out as a summer rain shower over Tulsa. At the close of that day’s session, the all clear was announced, and the attendees, having been cooped up all day, gleefully tromped outdoors for some fresh air before dinner and another night’s carousing.
The Further Adventures of Beulah
Beulah roused herself from a refreshing sleep, stretched out her magnificent wings and after a few tentative flutters, off she soared into the stratosphere. Or so it felt like to her—total freedom!
She shimmered in the cloudless blue sky. Propelling her elegant body through the soft air, gliding and whirling, an ephemeral, jeweled delight in the firmament above. Then floating closer to the earth, for her midmorning snack of sweet honeysuckle nectar. There she cavorted with Lili and Tomas. The three butterfly buddies paused in their joyous frolicking as they spotted a youngster playing in his backyard, pointing his grubby little finger up at them. Like perfectly synchronized dancers, they dipped their wings close to him and he shrieked with delight. Grinning to themselves, they regained altitude.
They came back down to lunch on the incomparable nectar of wildflowers growing by the riverbank. Later they spent some time communing with a flock of bees, exchanging tales about their respective pollination adventures. Our friends then passed by a senior residence, dancing for the amusement of the folks basking themselves on the porch. The sunbathers looked up, smiling from the heart as the butterflies graced them with their skylit acrobatics.
Next the colourful companions visited the hatchery, offering encouraging words to the infant caterpillars, whispering of worlds awaiting them. Remembering their own larval stage, it gave them great pleasure to paint pictures of the future for the fledglings. A future where they would emerge from the all-encompassing cocoon, to feel fresh air and to soar free to great heights and far distances.
Beulah was now herself tempted to set out on a long journey, exploring new terrain and as yet untasted delights. Her friends convinced her, however, to forgo her whim and stay with them to enjoy their familiar environs. They then swooped down in glory, to dine on local milkweed and cornflower.
So the air molecules that might have altered their course had Beulah embarked on a long trek, flowed smoothly instead. No unpredictable disturbances, no emergent tornadoes giving rise to even further atmospheric turbulence, resulting perhaps in a most unseasonable polar vertex, extending even to the outskirts of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, our old friend Hannah, the chaos theory scientist, has been enjoying a bounteous year. She had won a prestigious prize for her work. The relationship with her new collaborator evolved from professional to friendship – at first, platonic, and then romance budded bit by bit till it fully blossomed.
Hannah and Elspeth’s wedding was planned as an outdoor event, in Tulsa, where they had first collaborated. The jubilant occasion would be held with the sun shining down on the lush emerald lawn. As the day approached, there were rumours of an out of season vicious storm but once again Beulah’s sky dancing dispelled any potential storms.
Oh, happy day!
Marilyn Myerson, PhD Philosophy, has learned to take nothing for granted and to have fun. She retired from USF after 38 years of teaching, learning and kicking up her heels in Women’s and Gender Studies. Marilyn was the first outside hire in W(G)S, starting in 1973, when the department was just one year old. She was an administrator at various departmental and dean’s levels, including a stint as W(G)S Chair before her retirement as Emeritus faculty in 2010. She shepherded the Human Sexual Behavior class through its many incarnations, developed the original women’s health classes, and taught feminist research methodology. She is currently in three writing groups, and happily involved with OLLI-USF, taking art and writing classes. She created and teaches OLLI Imaginative Writing classes and facilitates writing groups.
Marilyn is an excellent writer who has contributed many unique stories to OLLI Connects. But OLLI Connects isn’t about sharing the stories of just a few writers. We’d like to share the stories of more of OLLI-USF’s members. To be blunt, we’d like to share one of your stories. You’ve led an interesting life. You’ve been places. You’ve done things. You have stories to tell. And where will you find a better audience than here? The people you’ve taken face-to-face classes with and now see in Zoom sessions? A few minutes at your word processor. An email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And Marilyn will be reading the story that you’ve shared.