September 3, 2013 10:55am

I want to write about the end of summer, the falling away of a season of family and friends’ deaths yet a summer still filled with hope, and love. Five hundred swallowtails feeding on a mimosa tree in my yard and a patient full of renewal of a life that is yet to be running into my office and exclaiming, “Dr. Burns, Dr. Burns, you have a lot of butterflies out there!” And my smug confidence in returning her exclamation with, “Yes, don’t I?”

“No, Dr. Burns, I mean you have a LOT of butterflies out there.” Instantly knowledge descending on me that I had no earthly idea to what she was referring. “Want to see?” she asked. “”Yes, please, show me,” I answered and together we walked.

The tree of life. Of beautiful shimmering and shaking, living and fluttering and transcending anything earthly, we sat together in his grandmother’s green wrought iron chairs in wonder, bewilderment and magnificence.

I took every single patient I saw for the next week to that tree, sat them down and then asked them to look up. Sometimes it took a minute before they saw the shimmer. Sometimes they saw it instantly or a bush swallowtail landed on their shoulder in recognition of their shimmering too. Some never saw it or just  talked through it or were too impatient to get to their appointment that they refused the wonder. That was just fine. They aren’t really coming to see my swallowtails or mimosa. They are coming to see me and take their own healing so we drifted away and into the office.

I checked first thing every morning, then again at noon and night. Praying to them daily. Don’t leave me. Now that I’ve got you, I don’t think I can live without. Don’t take your fluttering silence of yellow and blue, black and dancing and abandon this tree and our new life together. Stay. Stay here with me forever.

But of course they didn’t. They gave me fair warning though. One day there were five hundred, then it seemed not diminished but definitely less. Are there less or am I being a doomsayer, I looked, breathed and counted something that was not mine to measure. Gradually, they listed, floated down or just died. My lovely dog chasing the floaters on the ground in an elegant dance of death that was delightful. They left without saying goodbye but then they entered without much fanfare either.

It’s not just to fault all butterflies for being beautiful, for shimmering and for only living for two weeks in a mimosa. But I’d be tempted.


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