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Comforted by a Butterfly Angel

Anxious about the future, she asked God to bless her path.

Illustration of butterflies

“Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit quietly, may alight upon you.” I reread the quote in my car, hoping it would give me confidence. So far, it wasn’t working. I still felt unsure. Anxious. Far from still and quiet.

I picked up the envelope from beside me on the car seat. Am I making a mistake? Inside was my letter of resignation as library director, giving the required two weeks’ notice. All I had to do was drop off the letter at the county courthouse. Last night it had felt like the right thing to do, but now, sitting in the parking lot, I had doubts. I had no future plans, no job lined up, no idea what I would do next. I just knew I couldn’t keep doing this.

When I first started working at the library, I loved it. Back then I was a library aide. Then I got promoted. My new position gave me many more responsibilities, responsibilities I wasn’t adequately trained for. I did the best I could. I worked extra hours. Took work home. Did independent research to teach myself how to do my job better. But it wasn’t enough. The expectations were impossible, the stress overwhelming. The anxiety was starting to affect my health. Normally I would have gone to my dad for support. He was always ready to listen to any problem I had. But he’d just recently died from an aneurism. I had to make this decision on my own.

I looked at the envelope that held my resignation letter. Dad would want you to do what’s best for yourself, I thought. My hand was shaking. Lord, I could use a butterfly here.

Butterflies had always had a special meaning for me. As a child I raised them with my mom and a cousin. We grew the kinds of plants that caterpillars laid their eggs and fed on: fennel, parsley and dill. When it was time for the insects to spin their green or brown cocoons, we brought them inside. We watched over the butterflies when they emerged, keeping them safe while their new wings dried and they got ready to fly. Swallowtails were the easiest. I don’t know how many generations of those black-and-yellow beauties we released into the wild, waving them off as they flew into their new life.

The kids at the library loved it when I brought in a butterfly kit so they could witness the whole cycle from beginning to end. Their parents were spellbound too. Who could fail to be amazed at the sight of a caterpillar emerging as a butterfly from a cocoon? Who wouldn’t feel inspired watching each one spread its wings for the first time and take to the sky?

I glanced around the parking lot. There wasn’t a butterfly in sight. Since Dad died they’d seemed to show up when I needed them most. The black swallowtail I’d spotted right after he’d died. The brown one that alit on Dad’s lawn chair—the chair he used to sit on beside me and talk in the evenings. The little butterfly that perched on my elbow when I repainted the post with our address in front of the house.

I took a deep breath and got out of the car. This time you’re the one who has to spread your wings and fly, I told myself. The workers in the courthouse barely looked up as I dropped off my letter. They couldn’t know how scared I was.

I got back in my car and drove to the library for work. In two weeks, I would no longer be the director here. A new chapter in my life would start. Had I done the right thing? I could only hope.

I crossed the parking lot toward the library’s side door, where I usually entered. On the wall was a big metal button to press to open the door. I reached out my hand and stood still and quiet. Someone had beaten me to the button. A big black and blue swallowtail, its wings spread wide as if to make sure I didn’t overlook its message. Whatever awaited me in my new life, butterflies would be at my side.

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