August 8, 2006
"We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it's forever." -- Carl Sagan
If you are an old friend of mine, you've heard about this before, so sorry. But it occurred to me recently that I don't think I've written about this in any recent version of my online jabber. It's an important Rob Fact.
About twenty years ago, I was sitting around watching television sort of aimlessly (some behaviors are eternal, I suppose) when a program came on about Monarch butterflies. By the time it was over, something had changed in me.
It told how every fourth or fifth generation or so, Monarchs cross North America by the millions, flying south from as far north as Canada at a rate of about 80 miles a day, braving birds and weather and the destructive human stain on the world, until they reach a cool mountain pass in the volcanic highlands of Mexico. Scientists have no idea how they manage it. The butterflies that actually make the journey have never done it before; they are the great, great grandchildren of the previous travellers.
When they get there, the Monarchs congregate in groups so huge that the branches of the trees bend and touch the ground from the weight of them. They meet and they have sex and lay their eggs, and then they die. Their children fly north and start the whole thing over again.
I knew then, even as a stupid teenager, that I wanted to go to Mexicao and experience it one day. For twenty years, it has remained the only dream of mine that has never wavered.
It's funny how many times I've shared this dream, with wives and ex-wives and lovers and friends. And despite the fact that a number of people over the years have expressed an interest in going with me, I think I always felt deep down that when I do eventually go, it would be one of two ways.
Alone, or carried by someone who loves me, in an urn.
I have no idea how it'll happen. I'm in better shape than I've been since high school; I'm actually closing in on weighing the same as I did when I first learned about the Monarchs. I'm healthier now than ever in some ways, and sicker than ever in others. It's a weird sensation, being thinner and fitter and yet waking up some days feeling old and worn down.
But if I stay healthy enough for a bit longer, there may come a day when I limp into the cool shade of a quiet Mexican mountain pass and hear the unimaginable sound of millions of tiny flapping wings. And if I'm lucky, I'll have company, perhaps the company I was destined to have all along and never even knew it. She won't be much of a conversationalist, but she'll sign "butterfly" because she loves them, too. She'll share the experience that I've dreamed of since I was young and the future stretched in front of me, a future full of promise and still empty of monsters.
If not, I hope that one day she'll go there for me, my ashes in her backpack next to her Big Box of Words, and be the last person to say goodbye to me.