Saturday, August 3, 2013

Caring for the Physically Disabled

A Tupperware container filled with roly poly, black and lime green striped caterpillars sat on my friend's porch.  Her mother had found them on the remaining nubs of several parsley plants and had chosen to give them to her bubbly daughter and science-loving grandchildren before dusting a cloud of death to prevent any more such hatchings.

Would I like one?  Or two?

I've been down this path before.  One summer in college, I had "raised" seventeen of this type Swallowtail butterfly.  Even then, I felt faint echos of an expectant mother's heartache, especially with those who came so close to their destination--flight.  Then there was those in the batch who decided to overwinter inside the chrysalis.  I imagined a long-term pregnancy once again.  Ugh.

"No!" was what I thought.   "Yes! We would love some!" is what came out of my mouth.  My children were delighted.

Nine o'clock that night after teaching ESL, the two of us giggled into the corner grocery store and raised at least one eyebrow of the young man behind the register with our purchases--one bunch of parsley each.  To feed our caterpillars, of course.

Two days later, one caterpillar made his final purge before entering a chrysalis....and died. What followed was a zillion questions and a day-long science lesson about life and death in the insect world. 

The second caterpillar successfully transformed overnight, wriggling within his bark-brown chrysalis to shimmy out of that last paper-thin skin until it lay shriveled on the ground.  Success.

My friend's caterpillars began hatching and pumping fluid into the hollow framework of their wet, newborn wings.  We waited anxiously on this one, reluctant to come out and meet the South Louisiana heat.

Thursday morning, she was born, breaking forth from her little womb with the sun's rising.  I felt that familiar rush of adrenaline and yelled inside for my pajama-clad children to come barefoot with me on the front porch.

There, we four huddled around the small cylindrical habitat with its drying clump of parsley on the floor and several angular oak limbs propped from one side to the other.  The children chattered excitedly.  It was then that I noticed a tell-tale brown streak down the far wall.

My heart sank.  I actually silently prayed on the spot that it wasn't what I thought, that God would work a miracle anyway.

Hours later, I had to break the bad news to my children.  The butterfly had likely not anchored herself well when she began to pump the wing-filling fluid through her abdomen.  When her six legs "slipped," she released the brown fluid outside her body, and there was no more left to pump her wings full.
The wings dried as they were when she was first born--crumpled, misshapen, and completely incapable of flight.  I explained how this was God's plan for controlling the number of insects on the planet.  Still, I was sad. 

My son Wyatt, on the other hand, was convinced God was going to work a miracle.  He prattled on and on about God and miracles, completely dismissing my statements that she would likely die.  I finally sent him to bed.

The next morning, I made her habitat a butterfly haven with a sugar water filled sponge, a bouquet of fresh-cut zinnias, and a peach, syrupy and sweet.  Yet, she refused to eat. No matter how many times I moved her to a food source, she simply climbed back to the top corner of the cage and hung in silence.

That night, I found a white ghost spider that had slipped in with the flowers.  Its leg was already on a damaged, black wing, just waiting for her to grow weak enough for the kill.  I smashed the spider with two fingers, then prayed for God to let her die while we slept.  Quicker would be better versus us watching her grow weaker each hour from dehydration, only to die anyway.

On Friday, I decided to try something different.  The sun was starting its downward arc when I lifted the butterfly from the habitat and moved her to a hot pink Pinta flower in my front bed.  I watched closely as she unfurled her tubular proboscis and inserted it into a single flower, then another.  It wasn't much, but I spoke words of hope over her for the first time.  My children weren't surprised in the least.

By this Saturday evening, her feet know the salty taste of my hand.  When her legs' sensors grasp my fingertips, she beats her wings in excitement, knowing I'm taking her out to eat, out into the sun and wind.

Unlike most butterflies who flutter from bush to bush, she stays on the single flower head with its dozens of individual blossoms, her black eyes disappearing and reappearing as she methodically goes from one to the other, taking her fill.  Sometimes, though, she forgets her injury and lets go, expecting the wind to take her airborne. I reach down familiar fingers and lift her back to the pointy blossoms where she dines again.

She could die tomorrow.  I know that well enough.  Yet, with this one butterfly, I am known as she knows me.  She comes to me when I unzip the habitat whereas the others fly away.

It's an odd sensation, this connection with a mere insect.  I can't help but think of the Scripture that reads, "My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (Jn. 10:27).

How much more so is my connection with the Creator of all.

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