butterfly tree

“Second shelf, four books down, the blue one with the teal flowers,” he said.
I reached for it, finding the binding to be strong but a little frayed around the edges.
“There, that’s the one,” He touched the cover fondly, then looked into my eyes and smiled. “Open it.”
As I parted the covers, the pages rustled and exploded out like sparrows seeking cover when they hear a gunshot. I could see individual words on each page—words like “legacy” “thirteen” and “letters.” Then there were pictures, but they looked as a blur of color to my eyes. I spotted a face or two, but that is all. Then they stopped and I felt his hand on my shoulder. “Do you recognize any of it?”
I suddenly realized that, though I had not spent hours pouring over this manuscript, I knew it from cover to cover. I could have told him every character, every catastrophe, every triumph. But I simply said, “No, but then again I don’t remember anything. You know, about the time before.”
He flicked his hand and one of the book’s pictures came to rest in his hand, “What about this girl, do you know her?”
I looked at the features of the person in question—the silky brown hair and the sparkling eyes. She looked sweet but subtle. I bit my lip and shook my head, “I don’t know who she is. Should I?”
“She was you once.” He smiled. “And I can remember writing this story very well.”
I squinted, as if that would help me remember. “Me?” I thought about the story I had read in the blue book. This girl had seen miracles come out of the mundane, she had crossed the ocean to explore other worlds, she had seen many of her dreams come to pass, but she had also experienced deep heartbreak and faced an untimely death. “But how?”
“Let me show you.” He led me over to another part of the room, past the rows and rows of bookshelves. Along one wall was a screen, and in front of it was a desk with a printer and an open journal. Several pens rested to the right of the pages.
“You had a brother, back in the other times. Would you like to see him again?”
“Okay,” I answered, not knowing what to expect.
He turned on the screen with the flick of a switch, and an image appeared. A man, probably into his mid-thirties, sat on the edge of a bed in the darkness. As I watched him rock back and forth, I noticed that the clock on his bedside table said 2:17. He ran a hand through his hair and seemed to stifle a throaty sound. The sound of tears, maybe?
“What is going on?” I asked, eyes still trained on the video.
“Watch.” He turned up the volume and sat down in the desk chair.
“Why?” My brother stammered as we watched from the outside world. “First my daughter and now my sister….why?! Why did you take them from me?!” He moved forward quickly, as if the power of his grief rocketed him from the side of the bed. With one motion he slammed all the pictures off his bedside table. There was a sound of glass breaking against the wall. The clock hit the floor and lay there, upside down. The man sank to his knees, and his cries threatened to make my heart turn cold. Then the video squinted into blackness.
I looked over and saw that he had turned the screen off and was writing in the journal at his desk. Confused, I watched over his shoulder as he penned the words.
“And then I answered him through the darkness. He looked out the window at the stars and remembered what I told Abraham about the promises—about how those specks of light could not be counted, and they symbolized a mystery that was yet to be known.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It means,” He said, closing the book. “That he, just now, got a little taste of this world, even though he is still living in the before. And that taste will help him fight the grief….the grief of losing you.” He smiled with tears in his eyes. “And of losing her.”
I turned, and standing behind the desk chair was a little girl. She was about nine, with blonde hair that reached to her waist and a white nightgown that swept around her ankles. “Father, can I see my book?”
“Yes, dearest.” He rose from the chair, and walking to one of the nearest bookshelves, pulled out a magenta journal. It was smaller than mine, but no less decorated. He handed it to the girl, who excitedly opened it. Instead of birds, her pages burst out in a flock of butterflies. She danced around the room, the book dangling from her hand, trying to catch one of the papery beauties. Her laughter jingled off the walls of the room. I smiled at the joy in her eyes as I felt a tear slip from my eye. “I don’t remember…but there’s something…” I stopped and looked at my companion.
He squeezed my hand, and I could see that his cheeks were wet also. We stood there, watching the girl play and the butterflies sweep above the bookshelves and around the desk. And then the tears were falling fast because I thought of the man sitting in the darkness. I thought of how much he didn’t know, how he couldn’t see that his little girl was alive and dancing with the butterflies. He couldn’t see his book, because there were thirty chapters left to be lived.
“Father, why can’t he see? Why couldn’t I see when I lived in the before? If I had seen it would’ve helped me.”
He caught one of the paper creatures on his finger. It fluttered its white wings and I could see words printed on the paper. “A caterpillar only thinks of the leaf that he sits on and how he will eat and where he will build his cocoon.” He lifted his hand and let the butterfly join his companions. “He wouldn’t understand what it was like to fly even if I told him.”
He picked up my brother’s book from the desk and handed it to me. It fell open at the last page. There was a picture on it—of myself, the girl in the white dress, and the man from the video. Smiling, in the sunshine, with our Father in the midst of us. All three of our books were cradled in his arms.
“But someday, he will understand. ”

Blue has never been bluer, true has never been truer….if I could find the right words to say, if you could look at my face, if you could just see this place, you wouldn’t cry for me today. –Mandisa


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