YOU CAN’T RUSH A BUTTERFLY OR A BEAUTIFUL DEATH
By: Lauren Anderson
Last week my grandmother passed away. And yesterday was her funeral.
The day was as hard as you can imagine, but then the sun came out. And I couldn’t help but think, “This is a beautiful day. Grandma would’ve liked this.” The family was sad, and we will miss her dearly, but it also felt so good to get together and celebrate a good woman who lived a good life.
She died at 92, surrounded by loved ones. Her funeral took place in a church where she was an active member, and she had a close relationship to her god and to her faith. I was comforted by the comfort that must’ve brought her.
And when we were driving away from the funeral, I looked out at the changing leaves on the trees practically peacocking their vibrant colors, I couldn’t help but think, “That is a beautiful death.”
And then I immediately laughed at myself for thinking the most melodramatic-Sylvia Plath-esque-thing I could think.
But my theory has some legs right? Go with me here— I was having drinks one night, and a friend jokingly was going around and asking everyone what the meaning of life was, and when it got to me I answered, “A beautiful death.”
We laughed because I said it like Bruce Willis, about to save the world in Armageddon.
But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that that idea stuck with me… just a little. Because it’s an interesting (if a bit maudlin) way to approach your life. As in, living your life so you can achieve a beautiful death. Like the trees do every year, when they shed their summertime greens and go out in a glorious blaze of reds and yellows and oranges.
Or like my grandma. Loved. Surrounded by love. At the end of a long life, with the comfort of knowing her god.
A Beautiful Death. Perhaps as bad ass as it is sentimental. As John Wayne as it is John Steinbeck.
“It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.”
-Steinbeck (East of Eden)
Okay okay okay. This whole post is getting awfully poetic here, and before I crawl too far up my own butt thinking about beautiful deaths and Sylvia Plath, allow me to tether myself back down to Earth. My point is, I think I do this kind of stuff a lot. I think I focus on the proverbial “beautiful death” in most situations.
I am concerned about how it all will end.
This is not a revolutionary idea I know. I think a lot of people do this, or feel this way. But lately in my life, I’ve been feeling super extra impatient. Like I’m doing/working/striving for all this stuff to try and achieve my dreams… and I keep getting knocked out by this or that. Like it’s all juuuuuust beyond my grasp.
I feel like I’m all squashed on this side of the glass, and I just need that extra thing to make a crack so I can break through. Ya know?
Or maybe I’ve got tunnel vision. I can only see one possible outcome, when truthfully the journey can lead you down any number of unexpected paths.
My wisest friends often refer to this as “being inside the frame.” As in, “You can’t see the full picture because you’re in the frame.”
And honestly, that’s how I feel lately. In my health journey and otherwise. I want to be great at tracking my macros and see awesome results– RIGHT NOW. Instead of trying everyday to wake up and baby step my way into a new idea/habit. I want a body that reflects how I feel– RIGHT NOW. Instead of planning my week so that workouts are a priority… and then following through on that plan.
I also want to just wake up and be friends with my body—RIGHT NOW. Instead of doing the continuous intentional work that it takes, to talk to, and forgive myself, and move forward.
I want a career that changes people’s lives for the better and has legacy– RIGHT NOW. Instead of just having to consistently keep showing up and tenaciously continuing to do good and innovative work.
And speaking of showing up… I want a love that shows up full and ready and all in– RIGHT NOW. Instead of working on what I can do to put myself “out there” and open myself up enough to be loved.
UGHHHHHHHHHH. I mean, it’s exhausting! I’m over here be-moaning the great amount of work that greatness takes, and stomping my foot like an incredulous toddler and wanting it all to happen NOW.
My mind goes to the end of the race before the starting pistol is even fired, because the end of the race is where the glory is. It’s the fun part. I fantasize about the end because I feel stuck in the middle. Right now, I pine for results and wanna give process the bird.
No more investigation! I want this CASE CLOSED.
To put it simply, I’m fixated on the outcome because I’m feeling frustrated about all the work. Fully recognizing all the stuff that everyone knows already Gaaaawd.
I know that “It’s not the destination it’s the journey”. I’ve read the coffee mug that told me that.
But that doesn’t make it any easier being patient with the process. Especially when I feel like I’ve been hard at work in all these areas of my life for some time now, and have yet to achieve my ultimate goals.
But I guess, maybe that’s the deal right? Our ultimate goals are just another resting point, because there is always another summit on the horizon. There’s always more to do. Always more to learn. Always more. For someone like myself who likes to think in terms of abundance, you’d think I’d find comfort in this idea of MORE. But right now I just find it arduous.
It’s fitting that I would be telling this all to my sister on our 3 hour drive up north to our grandma’s funeral. She listened and even commiserated with me on some of my complaints. She’s in school right now to become a crisis counselor– so if anyone knows about wanting to be done already, it’s her.
But because my sister is who she is, and a future crisis counselor (which she will be so good at!) And doesn’t usually get bogged down with metaphysical escapism and ideas about “beautiful deaths” that I do… she was able to say something so clear, that cut through all the waxing philosophic, and set me straight.
She goes, “Hey, don’t beat yourself up. If you rush it, you won’t be ready for it. Sometimes things just take the time they take.”
Sometimes things just take the time they take.
My sister’s words felt like a puff on my inhaler. Yeah… I guess you’re right. Sometimes they do.
I think part of my frustration lately, is I have put things on an arbitrary timeline, and when results don’t match up with that timeline, I feel like I have somehow failed. And that failure feeling, I think we all can agree, is absolutely no fun.
* * *
Later on in the day, after the tears had dried some, and the memories were being shared, we retreated to the church basement for the typical ham sandwich and strong coffee luncheon that generally supersedes a typical small town Catholic service.
With the dessert bars eaten, I excused myself and as I was waiting in line for the bathroom and I saw a plaque on the wall that read:
“Happiness is like a butterfly. If you chase it, it will always elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”
Usually, I hate stuff like this. I love quotes, and sharing ideas. But I bump at ideas when they are presented as “THIS IS HOW IT IS” or when something tells me how I should think or feel.
But this damn butterfly quote on the wood-paneled hallway of a church basement really got to me. Just like my sister’s words did in the car. Like another puff on my inhaler. I take a deep breath.
I can’t rush it.
Butterflies don’t like to be chased. And sometimes things just take the time they take.
These clean and concise words felt like a pressure release. I gotta take myself off that timeline and keep doing the work. If I rush it, I won’t be ready. Because every step in the process, no matter how painstakingly slow, makes me a stronger and better version of myself for having gone through it. And prepares me for what comes next.
Just like my Grandma’s life. She was a good woman, that consistently tried to put more good in the world than there was before. It wasn’t a mad dash to the finish line and be done. It was in the daily. In every small act, and every step forward.
Just like every loving gesture, or adventure we attempt in our lifetimes, prepares us for… say it like Bruce Willis with me now… “A beautiful death.”
Just like you can’t rush a butterfly,
or the leaves when they change colors,
or the church ladies with their Minnesota Goodbyes.