Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Shadow of a Butterfly

I had the idea for this post over a week ago, and forgot about it, until a butterfly landed on our windowsill this morning.

It happened in the Peace Chapel at the International Peace Gardens, on the border between Manitoba and North Dakota. I was taking my time, reading the quotations gently, letting my husband and son move on ahead. I had been through the chapel twice before, and each time I had been overwhelmed. So many ideas, so long refined, so strongly, briefly spoken. They are carved in the limestone of the chapel walls, these quotations about peace, and life. Their timeless qualities are underscored by the stone and, here and there, by a fossil from ages before. The walls draw you as soon as you step into the chapel; their unusual backslope is part of the attraction, but mostly it is the light. Clerestory windows above the walls make them the brightest part of the small, simple space. I moved, like almost all visitors, along one wall, but this time I went slowly, drinking deeply of each quotation. I had no need to read them all.

Standing in front of Canada's Centennial Prayer, I became even more aware of the light, wavering and flickering as clouds passed above. In the midst of it was a form, fluttering softly.

The light faded behind a cloud, and to my staring eyes, the former brightness was replaced by illusions of darkness: square shadows where the window light had fallen for several moments before. I waited.

And the light came back, even brighter than before. To my delight, the fluttering form was still there in its midst: the shadow of a butterfly.

My husband came to me, writing "time to leave" with his movements. This time, I left the chapel with a clear mind. I have never been able to recall to mind any one of the inscriptions from those chapel walls, but it will be a long time before I forget that fluttering shadow of an unseen creature resting for a few moments on a window above.

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