I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness - in a landscape selected at random - is when I stand among some butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern - to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal. - Nabokov in Speak, Memory.
Mr. Nabokov has been to my thin places. Trespasser! Who gave him access to these spaces, wherein I keep my secret channel to the Divine? Here, my telescope (or periscope, depending on just how buried I am on any given day) gets a sly shake as I gape skyward and it becomes the kaleidoscope through which God is clear. My God is fragmented color. My God suggests shapes but the form keeps changing, always. My God is beautiful even in the dim light, but pops to bright realization against the sun. My God does not translate for me, but filters the universe.
And it seems Mr. Nabokov has no regard for the civility of space. Yes, I am collapsing the space between him and I, thin as the page, small as the typeface. I am treading the track of his words and thoughts, his very memory as it speaks. But, to be fair, he did invite me here.
Imagine then my shock to discover, as I walk the cove under his cover, the labyrinthine made familiar! I happen upon him sitting there, sunning himself like a lizard, bearded dragon of a bearded Russian, as my butterflies alight and dance away again. He is smiling. Very pleased with himself to have this secret garden of delights all alone.
I don’t suppose he’d be thrilled at my traipsing in at the last minute, six decades later.
Does he not know or does he not care that he is trespassing in the sacred space of another? Doesn’t he see that blue morpho there, the same shade and shape as the one on my arm in ink? Doesn’t he recognize those monarchs from my childhood days, rich green jewels and pale yellow promises, audacious insectary that got me through many, many years. My mariposas. My papillion.
They are my secret code between God and me. I see a butterfly. I hear a promise re-made in God’s image. Not your cardstock go get ‘ems, the misplaced Bible verses ripped out of context and flogged for mother’s day greetings and sympathy sentiments for the wordless in situations where words cannot be spoken and won’t be recalled.
No my butterflies speak God’s truth – to remember home and remember that the call was never to rest, stay home under the gentle guise and gaze out, heady with wine and fire warmth, at the cold night of human kind, faithful husband by my side and faithful dog at my feet. My butterflies don’t bid me an early night and a good sleep. They don’t proffer a sip of tea and a great book, in this ridiculous oversized chair and a half I had to have.
My butterflies speak to my memory and insist on an even greater journey tomorrow. Walk walk walk walk walk on. Know that you are called to give and admonished, warned against ignoring the call of an insistent God. Eli, was that you? Please let it be you this time. I’m sleepy and the bed sinks only just as much as I like. Walk on and on and on. Run when you must. Sink, swim, sprint, half-drowned, pull yourself up the rope and swing out over the jungle ravine. Go. Until you think you can go not one more step, and there, the next butterfly will wait, patiently opening and closing, collapse and expansion, death and resurrection, on it’s promise of time, ready to point the next way.
If nothing else, I want this to myself. Let it be a silly symbol to the rest of life. Let it be a trite agreement to the everlasting, a nod and a wink and a kiss blown to the heavens after every homerun. In this private space, I am known by God. I know I am seen, because I see them – my butterflies. And that is enough.
So now, I hope, you can imagine my incredulity, my outrage, my absolute apoplectic self to realize that this wasn’t my space at all. Someone else has walked these paths. For how long?, I am left to wonder once I regain my composure. And how many before him? How many yet to come?
We don’t expect each other, Nabokov and me. But we are all each other has in this moment and on this page. Each other, and our butterflies.
Above us, there is percolating color. A dance, not frenetic but fast. Like bouncing lottery balls in the machine, waiting to be selected for hedonistic glory and riches.
They are the butterflies, too numerous to count.
They are not Nabokov’s, and they are not mine.
They never were.
Yet I feel the promise to which they led me all along – that I am known, and seen, and watched over. No, that’s not quite right. I am danced over, jubilated over, celebrated by ultimate beauty. We all are.
It is better than enough. It is everything.