Like butterflies

This butterfly appeared to be dying, but its beauty was still remarkable. March 2016

This butterfly appeared to be dying, but its beauty was still remarkable. March 2016

“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.”  — Carl Sagan

Ah, but Mr. Sagan, you of all people should know that infinity is poorly understood, even by humans. Perhaps our most profound mistakes occur in our perceptions of finality, in our willingness to accept the limits drawn by what we can immediately perceive with our five known senses. The tiniest visible particle contains within itself unseen worlds with complexity to rival the galaxies that were your life’s focus.

One of my church sisters spotted the butterfly pictured above while we were on an early Saturday walk on a woodland trail. It seemed apparent to us that this lovely creature must have been dying, for it did not fly away when we approached. Gently, we lifted it from the trail and placed it in the shaded area beneath a tree. As we left it behind, it was still nearly motionless. But in a sense, it will live on in the photographs I took, which I am sharing with you now. This same butterfly may be visited days or months hence by other blog readers, its beauty extending beyond its ability to flutter, leaving us with a renewed awareness of brevity intersecting with lingering presence.

Eighty-eight years ago today a baby boy was born in the humble home that was the birthplace of his own mother, a home that still stands today. He would go on to live a fairly typical American life, normalcy touched with flashes of astounding wonder. He taught his children more about infinity than any astrophysicist could have, and on the day he died, he left behind him on this earth three unborn great-grandchildren to add to the seven already blessing the world with love and laughter.

Some of us believe there is more to life than the brief day described by Sagan; that every person’s journey on earth carries within itself, hidden as the atoms and particles that are no less real for their invisibility, the forever that may not be an illusion at all.

Lending a hand to the butterfly March 2016


  1. Live this post!

    • Hi, thanks for being here, and for your comment!

  2. blseibel

    Beautiful, the butterfly and your word pictures of a life well lived and its legacy.

    • Thank you, B. Hope you are doing well today.

  3. tpeastin

    Dear Julia,

    What lovely pictures and post…and what a beautiful ‘hidden’ tribute to your father. I’m pretty sure that it’s been at least a year since I’ve posted on your blog, but I am, indeed, a faithful reader. There have been numerous times when I’ve responded ‘in my head’. Stay strong in your current fight with Jeff’s illness. Know that you, Jeff, and Matt are being ‘prayed up’ by me and by a host of folks on the Upper Room site.

    Below is from my morning bible study from I Chronicles 28: 20 when David was giving his son, Solomon, instructions about building the temple:

    “Be STRONG and COURAGEOUS and get to work. Don’t be frightened by the size of the task, for the Lord my God is with you; HE WILL NOT FORSAKE YOU! He will see to it that everything is finished.” (my emphasis)


    Pat XOXO

    P.S. It took me an hour to get this written with interruptions and editing…how do you DO it? 🙂

    • Pat, I just got your lovely card last night, and posted it on my fridge. I love it. I always look for your Gravatar on the blog, and know we are in touch even when you don’t leave a comment. Some people don’t comment often, or ever, and that’s perfectly fine. I really do feel the power of the prayers and the strength of warm wishes and love sent across the distance. I hope to get over to Upper Room again before too long. Re: how to get stuff done — if I was better at it, my life would feel more sane, but some things (such as writing and dealing with online glitches) do get easier with practice. The blog gives me a place apart, where I can go to escape all the trials of medical crises, bureaucratic snafus, and all the common frustrations that every human alive has to deal with daily. Thanks also for sharing that verse. I know that many others besides me will draw strength from it. Thanks for being with me! ❤

  4. Julia, your words today have touched my heart!! Love to you and the family.

    • Thank you Cherie! I know we will stay close in thoughts and prayers. I’m glad you are with us through all this.

  5. Stunning butterfly and how fortuitous that you were able to capture it’s image. I agree with your thoughts as well. Beautifully said.

    • Thanks Marlene. I believe we think alike in many ways. Whether that is a compliment or an insult depends on whom you ask, I’m sure. 🙂

  6. Dear Julia, thanks for sharing your beautiful butter fly.
    Praying healing Mercies for your family.

    • Thank you, Merry. ❤

  7. Amy

    “As the life of a flower, as a breath or a sigh. So the years glide away, and, alas, we must die” Do you know this song? My mom used to sing it when I was a kid and this part, which is the chorus, is on the headstone she will share one day with my dad. I love that you included your dad in this. Like you I think Sagan has his thoughts wrong and as you said I find it funny he should think that we are just a speck given his profession. I do believe that life is infinite in what we can not see here and in what awaits us in heaven. My favorite verse of the above song is the third one. “As we tarry below, let us trust and adore him who leads us each day toward that radiant shore, Where the sun never sets, and the flowers never fade, Where no sorrow nor death may its borders invade.” God bless you dear friend. Keeping you and your loved ones in my prayers.

    • Amy, I can remember turning past that hymn in the hymnbook (Great Songs of the Church) but I have no memory of actually singing it. I must have sung or heard it at least once, though, because I have a vague idea of how the tune goes. I checked it online and my memory of the chorus is fairly accurate. So I guess I heard it sung once or twice. I like this verse: “As the life of a flower, Be our lives pure and sweet. May we brighten the way for the friends that we greet.”

      A few months before Daddy died, I shared with him this version of the hymn I sang to myself that dark night in September 2012 when I had just left you and Steve and was on my way to the hospital. He asked me how to place it on his computer desktop so he could listen to it again and again. What a matchless gift we have in music! And how glad I am for having been raised singing a cappella so I had to pay attention to the messages of the songs. Thanks for sharing our heritage of faith, and for keeping us in thoughts and prayers.

      • Amy

        I too think it is a gift to have been raised singing and listening to a cappella. The tv shows that have made it so popular now days kind of crack me up. I have found a few groups that I love from those shows but I really want to say to all of them, “You are sooo behind the times. I love that version of, “In Christ Alone”. I can see why your dad wanted to listen to it over and over. Where did you find that young man? After I came back to Germany when my dad had been so sick the song, “There is a Balm in Giliad” stuck with me. I would sing it normal but I would also do nutty stuff with it, make it opera sounding or draw out the notes, finally my family threatened to kill me if I didn’t give it up but I still love that song and I don’t remember paying all that much attention to it before my dad died. Funny how some just stick out at the right moment. Talk with you soon. Love you.

        • Amy, I’m not up on all the latest shows, but I did know that a cappella seemed to be making a comeback of sorts. Perhaps it’s part of the general move toward simplicity. I’ve always believed the best thing about a cappella church music is that it’s so portable. No equipment needed. 😀 Re: the song you mentioned doing nutty stuff with, mys brother Al used to sing “There is a bomb in Gilead” when we were little. It wouldn’t be funny anymore. I too do all sorts of funny stuff with songs when I sing, making up alternate words and substituting words etc. I even used to sing for Pasha (as if in his voice) — luckily my family puts up with it and sometimes even laughs. I bet there are plenty of others who do the same thing, but none as well as my favorite male vocalist, Al Yankovic. Looking forward to our quick dash to York!

  8. Sheila

    Oh, Julia. What beautiful thoughts, obviously missing your Daddy. Mr. Carlyle…. Forever and a day! I went back and read the beautiful obituary of a life well lived! I hope all is well with Jeff, in recovery mode. Love, Sheila 💛

    • Thank you, Sheila, for sharing this special memory with us. We will never stop missing him, but we are gladdened by all the joy he left in our hearts. Jeff is getting a bit better, day by day. The psychological battle is always the hardest for him.

  9. MaryAnn

    The Lady shares her God-given outlook to “see” more! Forever in Eternity, we will be finding more for which to praise our Heavenly Father! So happy that you are able to be on the blog for us!
    To the Lady, Julia!
    Sending prayers & love~~~

    • Mary Ann, you are so unfailingly generous with me! I love you for it. ❤

  10. Pat glaspell

    Julia, what a beautiful tribute to the life of one of God’s creatures, and to your father. You have such a gift of writing and sharing. You, Jeff and Matt are so special to our church family; and you are all an inspiration to me and our church family.

    • Thank you Pat. We have missed all of you, but keep you close in heart. Jeff was listening to one of the podcasts this morning (it takes awhile for the current ones to show up but at least it gave us a small feeling of being there. 🙂 ) See you soon, I hope.

  11. Julia, what a lovely photograph to accompany this tribute to your daddy. He had the pleasure of children and grandchildren in his life. That must have been something. Soon you’ll have another grandchild of your own. Thinking of you today and always. Xo

    • Thank you Alys! We are so happy that Daddy had just been told about one of these three unborn great-grandchildren a few hours before he died. Aaron and Hailey had just found out, and visited Mama and Daddy in person to tell them. They didn’t yet know whether it would be a boy or a girl. She’s now a beautiful month-old baby girl…and her name is Ellie Carlyle. 🙂 ❤

      • Oh Julia, that makes me smile. And what a lovely name, too Ellie Carlyle. It’s so nice to find you here.

  12. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Beautiful photos, beautiful words of wisdom. Julia, you are a treasure.

    • Judy, thank you so much. Your words of encouragement mean more than I can say. I am so glad you are here with us!

  13. At first, I got very sad to think you were witnessing the death of this beautiful butterfly but the rest of your post made me think (as they always do) and I felt a little less sad. Where nature is concerned I sometimes feel very weak. It’s truly unbearable to think of animals struggling, being scared, lost or hunted by man. I don’t know if others feel these things so deeply or if I’m just completely over sensitive (some people have told me that). I really can’t let my brain go there, I just fall apart.

    But you write so well Julia and the thought of being a butterfly that flutters long after my wings don’t, is beautiful. I’ve never really considered how our lives continue to reverberate through the ages. The story of this man and the cottage he was born is moving. Not having children, I guess makes my life has seemed more finite to me. I want to give this some heartfelt consideration. xo K

    • K, what do Emily Dickinson, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Jane Austen, Oprah Winfrey, Joan of Arc, Julia Child, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony and Harper Lee all have in common? None of them had children, but their lives were/are far from finite. There are many ways to leave a legacy that will endure. Closer to home, in that same little house where my Daddy was born (and where a family unrelated to us now lives — and they let me tour inside when I knocked on the door and told them who I was– it was a bit modernized, but much as I remember it) there also lived, for a time, his Aunt Henrietta who never married or had any children. Though I cannot remember her at all, and probably she died before I was born, I feel a close connection to her through the books she left behind and the stories of her Daddy told (she was his favorite, I think).

      Some of us are far more sensitive to our animal friends than others. It seems to be hardwired into some of us to worry about any sort of creature who struggles with fear or hunger or pain. I have so many childhood memories of feeling heartbroken over seeing animals that had been killed on the road, or dead birds in the yard, or a baby chick unable to fly after it has left the nest. I even dislike killing ants, though I have to do it when they get inside. It’s gut-wrenching at times but I would not want to be callous or not care. I get so much joy from all sorts of animals and as a believer I take reassurance from Jesus saying that not a single sparrow escapes God’s notice. I might get an argument on this but my vision of paradise is that it will include animals and humans together, free from the troubles of this world and all of us being nice and good to each other as we were meant to be. I can just hear some cynical person snorting at that, but I say, snort away and be miserable if you insist upon it. Hope is a happier way to live! I really believe that.

      • That’s a dynamic list of women and thanks for sharing this J. I guess one possible positive thing about being childless is having more time to share a passion and care for the community. I must admit, people tend to be a little less surprised and don’t question me as often as they used to about this. One reason being, I’ve now gone past the ‘best before date’, LOL ! But also it might be more common now that more couples aren’t having families. A girl in my office once actually asked me point blank, “you don’t have kids? Why?” Gah! I told her it was a private decision but I remember she (probably unintentionally) made me feel like half a person. Again, maybe it’s that ‘over-sensitive’ thing. Admittedly, some people are less tactful than they need to be. Oh and I’m with you on the aunt thing 😀 xo

        • Years ago, one of my best friends and her husband were going through infertility treatments (no picnic), and people kept making the sort of obnoxious comments you mention, and some really crass remarks that are even worse than what you mention. We can be so STUPID at times! She’s a pretty tough person but at one point she just started crying which kind of shocked her interrogators; of course, nobody saying these things knew what they were going through. From her I learned that it’s not wise to ask “friendly” questions about personal matters. Being a parent is like being married; it’s not a role that everyone is supposed to play, and I think we really mess up when we pressure people (often with the best of intentions) to do things we think they ought to be doing. I know I have been woefully tactless so many times that I know about, and I shudder to think of all the times I don’t know about. BUT when people are honest about these things it helps. I appreciate having people share their experiences with such hurtful things in a context where nobody present is one of the offenders. It helps us to learn from other people’s mistakes in a way that does not put us on the defensive.

  14. HarryS

    ! What a wonderful discovery!
    A Butterfly in the passion of dying! 🙂

    • A caterpillar becomes a butterfly in its next life…what does a butterfly become? Maybe we’ll find out someday. 😀

  15. Dear Julia, is that an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail? So beautiful, and so white. I wonder if aging butterflies lose some color, similar to humans; our crown of silver hair being a testament to our years (and hopefully earned wisdom)?
    I’ve seen dogs, cats, and horses attain some white hairs. Yet when our pets are gone, do we remember only their geriatric years? I don’t think that I do. Suddenly in my mind, they are the playful kitten, the cuddly cat, the quirks, the companionship, the funny incidents, all rolled into one; an entity no longer constrained by time and age.
    I’m not a big fan of some of my age-showing attributes, but it is all part of my story.
    Thank you for your snapshot of time and the backward and forward relationship of memories and legacy.
    Blessings on you and yours!

    • Susan, I looked it up, and yes, I do think that was an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. I remember it looking more yellow than it does in the photos, so perhaps it had something to do with the slant of the bright morning light, or the shade or whatever. But maybe you are right; maybe butterflies, too, fade as they grow older. Pasha had a white goatee for years before he died. And I’ve seen many dogs with white fur on their faces too. Madeleine L’Engle said that the great thing about getting older is that we don’t lose all the other ages we’ve been. That’s true of our animal friends, too, especially in terms of how we remember them.

      Hey I got the most splendid surprise in the mail the other day, and I emailed to get your permission to blog about it. Fair warning: I have a post coming up soon! I am assuming you are the “Susan” who sent it. If you don’t want me to post about it, let me know right away. It was a very fun post to write. THANKS for being here!

  16. bobmielke

    In a real sense mankind is still in its infancy on the cosmic scale. We’re the new kid on the block when it comes to the big picture. It amazes me what we’re able to do without God. Imagine what we could accomplish with Him!

    • Hi Bob, hope you are doing well. As humans we do tend to get rather arrogant until we look at the grand scheme. I think everything good is done with God, whether or not we realize it, but that’s just my opinion. I think God works in all sorts of ways, through all sorts of people. But yes, a much greater synergy is created when we work with God rather than against.

      Perhaps you are seeing signs of spring in New England; I hope so. This will be your first springtime there in your new home?

      • bobmielke

        Everything I’m experiencing is a first.

        • I hope that’s mostly a good thing! You are in a situation where “beginner’s mind” will come naturally. I keep telling myself (and sometimes Jeff) that all these life changes we are going through are helping us to stay more flexible. Might as well put a positive spin on it, right? 🙂

          • bobmielke


  17. Heba

    A beautiful post! Love your insight into the quote, and the pictures of course ^_^ 🙂 ❤

    • Thank you Heba! It’s nice to hear from you again. Hope you are doing well.

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