I was just a child when I first realised I was afraid of moths and butterflies. And it was a bit of a surprise to everyone around me, because it makes sense to be scared of the creepy bugs, but do these beautiful creatures even count as ‘bugs’? But the fear was there and it was pretty strong and there didn’t seem anything I could do about it.
It was as if my ears were extra sensitive to the faint fluttery sound the wings of these creatures make and to this day I can detect them from a medley of noises and hone in on where exactly the musical culprit is. At first, my Mum wouldn’t believe I could actually do this and she’d think it was just coincidence that I was always the first to know when a winged intruder had invaded the room. With time, I think she has grudgingly accepted that I am…or rather my fear is attuned to them.
In the beginning, I’d simply shriek and run from the room – usually this was over dinner and I haven’t a clue why the moths would choose just that room and that time more often than not. And I’d refuse to come back in and finish my dinner until my Dad had caught it and let it out. And that worked fine.
However, I distinctly remember the day I was in a room and a moth fluttered too close. It did one of those crazy spiraling nosedives and before I could escape, it was almost upon me. So I grabbed the closest thing my hand found and frantically swatted it away. What I grabbed was some cloth – a light towel, a pillowcase, a handkerchief, I forget which – but because of the force with which I swung it, to the delicate wings of the moth it might as well have been a baked brick.
So when I looked around in fear to see if it was coming back for another attack, what I was greeted with instead was the sight a moth on the floor, pathetically fluttering its broken wings. I’ll never forget that moment when my Mum looked at me and sadly said: “Now look what you did. Just because you were afraid? What did it ever do except want to fly?”
That night, as my Dad put it outside, I kept praying it would miraculously grow back its wings and fly away, but inside I knew that was impossible and I only felt a sense of shame that I had destroyed something innocent for no reason greater than that I was afraid.
I continued doing my shriek-and-run routine every time I saw a flying creature, but after that day I would always yell “Please don’t hurt it!” from behind the door where I was taking cover.
I’m still afraid of insects and of moths and butterflies. But now that my father doesn’t deem it necessary to come running to catch them any more than he would to chase the monsters under my bed, I’ve learnt to compromise with them. I’ll usually wait for one to settle somewhere and then put a light cloth over it until I leave the room (more often than not this is a game, because they always escape from under a corner) or I’ll talk to them.
Yup, I do that. And it works. I would swear on it. I just stand in the doorway as it swoops madly back and forth across the room and explain to it that I have a lot of work to do and would it please settle somewhere quietly till I’m done and then it can swoop to its little heart’s content? And within a minute or two, I have a quiet, tame creature sleeping on a shelf or between the folds of curtain where I can keep an eye on it without too much worry. I don’t care if you believe me or not. I know they listen.
Going back to the lesson of this story though (if it can be called that). I guess I realised on that day that when you allow yourself to put your fears first, you always risk the possibility that you will lash out at the innocent and inevitably hurt someone. Sometimes it will be someone who is only trying to help, other times it will be someone who truly cares. But usually it is someone who intended only good for you.
Parents do it often. They are afraid of admitting that they’re not perfect or that they are human after all and they end up lying to their children about things that would have done better with the truth. Sometimes, they’re afraid of the very responsibility of teaching another human being how to be human, they lash out with rules and imposed authority. But how often does the fear of failing to be a good parent cause a person to become the bad parent they were trying so hard not to be? More often than is necessary, I think.
Human beings are so afraid of their own nature, it’s almost funny. The very things that make us the greatest, most perfect creation of God are the things we fear to accept because we perceive our strengths to be our weaknesses, our abilities to be our inabilities, our successes to be our failures.
We’re afraid to love, to trust, to share, to commit, to be loyal, to surrender, to submit, to forgive (and to ask for forgiveness as well). Afraid to care, to sacrifice, to try, to experiment, to take risks, to fail, to make mistakes. Afraid to give, to be hurt, to experience pain, to cry, to take leaps of faith, to feel and to sometimes simply believe…
And because of these fears, we end up hurting each other more than we need to or should. At the root of almost every broken heart and failed relationship, is a deep-seated fear of some kind.
Now I’m not saying we should all start becoming emo and display naivety at every turn. A healthy sense of caution is equally good for avoiding being hurt unnecessarily. But sometimes you need to pause for a moment and ask yourself what is motivating you – is it sensible precaution or blind, stubborn fear?
I mutilated one moth years ago, but the sense of something beautiful and innocent wasted still lingers with me. And yet don’t we scar and mutilate each other all the time with our words, actions and decisions and then go on with life convinced we had no choice in the matter? Don’t we lash out when people get past our defenses and end up hurting them for no better reason than that – just like the moth did – they got too close for comfort?
There are many times when fear is a good thing. We should be afraid of being unjust, of being cruel, of having no moral standards or principles, of behaving in a manner that doesn’t befit us as human beings. We should be afraid of the Justice of God, of disappointing those who have placed their hopes in us, of letting those who love us down…these are fears that keep us on the right track in life even when we’re tempted to take easy detours. But fear should always prompt you towards something positive or else that fear is simply self-indulgence.
When I swatted that creature so long ago, I remember pausing after to listen for its tell-tale flutter and I can hear to this day the silence that followed. So when I ask myself: ‘What sound does it make when you crush the wings of a butterfly?’ I’m tempted to say ‘It makes no sound’. But I think I’d be wrong. Because it does make a sound.
It makes the same sound a promise makes when it is broken, and the same sound that hope makes when it is crushed, and the same sound a heart makes when it hurts. And although we who are afraid rarely hear them, these are sometimes the loudest sounds in the universe, because they echo in the silences of the souls that are braver…