Monarchs, Memories, and Me by Fran Salone-Pelletier

Shivering in the cloudiness of an early October morning a few years ago, I stood and waited. The linen jacket I thought would have been sufficient to ward off the misty chill did not nearly measure up to the task. Even the crowds gathered about me could neither absorb the cold nor offer enough warmth to calm my bumpy skin. Discomfort was the order of the day—and appropriately so. For we had gathered to remember a man who lost life’s comfort to the arms of death. We were forming a circle of stories to ease the sadness and promote a measure of renewed joy for his wife and family. Our shaking bones gave witness to quivering hearts. We, too, were losing life’s comfort to the arms of death.

I walked, alone, on undisturbed red cedar paths. Bushes and plantings studded with butterfly houses and bird feeders delighted me. A dolphin’s open-mouthed water cascade refreshed my soul’s dryness and whet my spiritual thirst for more of nature’s wonders. There was a quiet peace about the place, despite the growing numbers of people surrounding it. Tranquility amidst human traffic—such a lesson to be learned.

Before long, as humans do in times of sadness and moments of joy, we were summoned to a banquet table steamy with breakfast foods. Our senses—and stomachs—were soon filled with fragrances that spoke of living . . . breathing . . . being . . . together. Under a tent, a human tabernacle, we began again to voyage into the land of re-membering. Hungry bodies broke the fast, as well as the bread. Dispirited souls, starving spirits were fed. Smiles lent a sparkle to muted solemnity.

Yet there was a noted absence. Something was missing. I could not put my finger on it. I could feel the omission more than I could explain or describe it.

Just when I was about to dismiss the feeling as a figment of my imagination, the program began and my thoughts were interrupted. It started like so many other services, with prayerful invocation, then continued with words of invitation, a presentation of gifts, and heartfelt expressions of gratitude and appreciation. I was moved by the sincerity and honest emotions of the various speakers. At the same time, in the presence of dignitaries and workers, ordinary folks and movers and shakers, the nagging absence tugged at me.

Why wasn’t I content with the power of the moment? No one else seemed to note that anything was amiss. Why did I?

The ceremony was nearly completed. I glanced at my program and saw that only two events were left. These, however, required our participation. Silently, all were attentive to the explanation. First, we would listen while a beautiful young woman sang Wind Beneath My Wings. I love that particular melody and have always been moved to tears upon hearing it. At the song’s conclusion and upon a given signal, we would remove a rubber band closure to open a box that each of us had been given and release an enclosed butterfly. With a nervous laugh, the speaker mentioned that he hoped it was warm enough. If the air was too cool, our occupants would simply sit motionless, refraining from flight.

Each note of the song rose clear and crisp into the morning air. My heart rose with them, but I did not cry. Instead, my being was filled. Slowly, the absence became more real—and Presence gained prominence along with it. The final note lingered . . . just a moment . . . before we gingerly removed the bands of restriction, opened wide the boxes—and waited. Flight or fear?

No coolness had left the morning air, but the warmth of humanity must have pervaded the atmosphere because each marvelous monarch fluttered and then flew into bushes, onto flowery shrubs, atop trees. All save one.

One butterfly chose to stay close. One lone butterfly opted to be absent from the rest—and present to us all. That regal creature flew into the hair of the person he loved the most, the widow of the husband we were remembering.

Was this coincidence? Was it a serendipitous moment? Or . . . wonder of wonders . . . could it have been her husband’s spirit—flying as freely among us as the butterflies we had just released?

Gently and tenderly the winged creature lit upon the widow’s head, easing all absence with profound Presence. She hugged and was hugged by those around her. And the butterfly stayed. She moved her head downward as she bent to receive the embraces of shorter people and then lifted it high for those who were taller. And the butterfly stayed. No movement could shake that solitary sentinel nor make him leave his post.

Just as suddenly, the monarch flew away. As he flew away, the tears that had been flowing down the cheeks of his beloved subsided and then stopped altogether. As if that were a summons, the butterfly returned—for one last, long, lingering visit. Then it was goodbye once more. This time the ending was, more clearly than ever, a beginning. This time it was not the finality of a curtain call but the reality of an encore. Once more, with feeling. Once more, with love. Once more, absence was noted as the necessary, though painful, ingredient for profound presence.

I removed my linen jacket. It was no longer needed. There was no chill to the air I breathed nor mistiness to the world around me. I had discovered a new sunshine. It is the solar power of life, found only when I hold my cardboard box existence and give it warmth. Life’s joy is released when each of us removes the constricting bands that keep us captive. There is . . . no, we are, each of us—a potent presence when we remember that freedom is given—to monarchs, memories, and me!

Fran Salone-Pelletier holds a master’s degree in theology. She is the author of a trilogy of scriptural meditations, Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives, as well as a religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer, and grandmother of four. She can be reached at

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