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  • Mo MacPhail

Chasing Butterflies


For a good portion of my life, I didn’t feel very smart. I remember in younger days we would at times gather with family and friends and play Trivia Pursuit. A game sure to point out quickly, who knows stuff and who does not. In the formation of teams, I’d feel my stomach twist. I would promptly attach myself to my brother’s or mother’s team. Or else be exposed as the girl who knows nothing. I knew my mother and brother would let me ride their wave of knowing. I used to accuse my brother of reading all the cards first. How could someone know so much stuff!? Who paid that much attention?! He did. My mom did. All my siblings seemed to as well. For a long time, I felt I was along for the ride. The wrong egg placed in the right nest. I was grateful for the safe and robust surroundings, however, because no one was looking to be on my team unless the questions were about chasing butterflies in the outfield. If so, then I was your girl! Occasionally I’d even catch a fly ball or hit one out of the park while reaching for the playful winged creatures. Luck. I was an expert at that!

I hated school. I didn’t learn well there. I learned better by doing and experiencing. I needed to apply what was being taught to something I could touch and feel with all my senses. Otherwise, I was gone in my thoughts with the butterflies.

I remember this realization while cutting class one day during my college years, to play pool and drink beer. It was during this misspent moment in my youth where geometry began to click for me. I watched angles and proofs come to life while strategizing bank shots and calling them out. I questioned out loud, probably after my third beer, why my geometry teacher, Sister Joanne, couldn’t take us to the pool hall and give us math problems to make and take while enjoying a game of Billiards. Heck, why couldn’t we get a pool table for our school!? If we did, maybe I wouldn’t have had to copy off someone else’s paper during final exams and wouldn’t have had to take algebra twice. Alright, maybe my talking in class and not paying attention had something to do with it, but overall, math was a mystery to me. There was no application for it except to memorize stuff and put it back on paper or fill in a bubble on a test. With my Dory brain and need for tactile experience, it wasn’t happening. I struggled. But when I played pool, I got it. When I learned to fly, the numbers plugged in. Once there was purpose and reason I was interested. I’m not saying it came easy, but I soon realized meaning came with doing. For the record, drinking too many beers while playing pool blurs your angle and dulls the vision. Best to stay sharp. I learned that in the doing also.

In high school, I proclaimed to my mother one day, that I would not be going to college.

“I hate school! I’m all done!” I’d say. She would say, “Fine, fine, but you have to get a job.” Well, fine back, I already had one, and I loved working. Working was doing. I remember at my high school graduation from Prout Memorial High School for girls; we had all walked down the aisle to receive our diplomas and were in the back hallway after the ceremony to say goodbye to each other. Many friends were weeping and hugging. I did not partake in this emotional display and watched perplexed. It was a bit of a Spock moment where I thought, Interesting.

“Why are you all crying!?” I asked them all. “We’re done!” I explained excitedly. You couldn’t wipe the smile of joy from my face. I was ready to do cartwheels down the hall and run free! Why did these young women have mascara running down their faces? “Run with me. Feel the free! What is wrong with you!?”

My mother, in her knowing wisdom and ability to hoarse whisper to me, suggested shortly after this joyful night and declaration of no more school, that I take one course while I worked in and at life. Just one college course at the Community College. “Take something you like, like Art,” she said.

Ok, I thought. I can do that. I liked art, and I loved my mom, so I signed up for Art 101. And I did enjoy it. I was good at it. So I kept taking courses, one or two at a time and held my day job. I took English, Philosophy, Psychology, Biology and Sign Language. I also completed a computer flow charting course, where I wish I had listened to the professor with the Indian accent and his up and down voice inflection say to me, “Computers are what you should learn, it is the future.” Talk about your missed opportunities.

I surrounded myself with smart people, thinking I could absorb smart by standing next to them. I rode the wave of those who knew and transferred to a 4-year college, all while working and doing and marrying the wrong person, and more than four years later found myself with a college diploma. I even graduated Dean’s list and didn’t have to copy off anyone’s paper! I was all done, again! And soon would be done too with a failed marriage. Again, doing, learning and growing. I wasn’t a great follower of the words I advise my children with now “Slow and steady wins the race.” I had more of an “I wonder what this button does” while pushing the button, approach to life.

I have learned many things the hard way, but is there any other way? If the learning is always easy and there isn’t a struggle, is there real learning going on?

I think the secret is to keep moving and doing and of course the butterflies. The butterfly’s strength lies in the struggle. In fact, if you help them while they push their way through the chrysalis of their making, they won’t thrive or survive well.

There are so many lessons to be had in the story of the butterfly. From the tiny caterpillar to the Chrysalis, and finally butterfly- Each stage filled with purpose and promise while they crawl, eat and gracefully fly and survive in a sometimes brutal world. Butterflies navigate well and do their best to avoid the dangers and predators. Their inner GPS will take them where they need to go so the cycle can continue. Their life, death, resurrection story always inspires.

Through the years, in working and playing and doing and schooling complete with success' and failures, I can confidently say I have gained much knowledge. I would now joyfully join any Trivia Game without angst or worry and remind those unsure about joining that they know more than they think and have much to contribute. Most importantly, we will learn while doing. It's in the doing.

I have also learned that the duties and windows of opportunity are ever changing, but they are always there waiting and whispering- calling us to remember and move forward towards our next goal or dream. We are never done or alone. We may stop for a moment or choose not to listen to the whisper, but we are never finished being called to create something new, to complete the cycle so we can start over again with what we’ve learned, what we want to learn, and what we know. This seems smart to me. So does chasing butterflies.

S- Sharing ourselves

M-Mastering our own unique gifts and talents

A- Always questioning – Always growing – Always listening – Always learning -Always loving

R- Researching and Remembering our connections and Responsibility to each other

T- Teaching. Tuning in. On the Tapis, Telling Tales of our Tapestry

#butterflies #strength #beauty #lifedeathresurrection #smart #trivia #game #doing #opportunity

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© 2020 Mo MacPhail                                                    momacphail@aol.com

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