This morning I was running late for my meeting with the master gardener. When the weather permits we try to meet in the garden. Today would be another hot summer day and we agree to meet at dawn before the heat became unbearable. I overslept and the sun was already over the horizon. I made my way to the bench we used for these early meetings and he was not there. I decided to sit down for a moment hoping he would show up. As I waited, the sun crested the treetops and turned the colors vibrant. I closed my eyes and worshiped. I sensed a presence next to me and when I opened my eyes I found the master gardener.
After we exchanged good mornings I asked, “I wonder why God had to create darkness”. He did not respond. He knows me well and therefore knew I was speaking metaphorically. I continued, “If God had created a world without darkness, these flowers would be big as trees and have stems as strong as trunks. They would be sturdy enough to weather any storm”. He remained quiet and took my hand into his and pointed with his other to a small white butterfly perched on a nearby flower, its wings look like petals swaying in the breeze.
“If this butterfly were to represent an emotion, which one would it be?” The gardener asked.
“Everyone uses butterflies to represent happiness or joy,” I answered.
“Look closer” he urged.
I got up for a closer look but my movement sent the butterfly into the air and away to a flower in the distance. When I glanced back at the gardener, he gestured for me to follow it. I crept up on it and gently cupped my hands around it. I peered through the opening of my fingers only to find that it lost its magically appearance. I was disappointed that it was not happiness. I made my way back to the bench and sat down with a heavy sigh.
“Did you find happiness?” he asked, amused at my dramatic return.
“No” I answered. “I felt disappointment when I caught it.”
A pale blue butterfly landed nearby and he pointed to it. “How about this one?” I stood again and chased the butterfly. I found it resting on a purple coneflower. The pale blue contrasted beautifully with the purple. Once I held it in my hands hopelessness came over me. This one was not happiness but sadness. Further down the path I spotted a beautiful orange monarch. Grand in comparison to the smaller cousin I held in my hand. Could this be the one that represents happiness? I let go of the blue butterfly and followed the monarch into the rose garden. When I finally caught him, a thorn pierced me deeply. As I held the monarch, I felt the anger boil inside of me. Where was happiness? Frustrated I let the butterfly go and stomped back to the bench with my fist clenched in anger. “This is a stupid game,” I said as I towered over the gardener. He only smiled and patted the empty seat next to him. I sat down arms crossed over my chest.
“So you do not like this lesson?” He asked.
“It is nothing but a waste of time.” I glared at him. A white butterfly floated close and the gardener held out his hand. It landed on his finger and he brought it closer to me. We peered down upon it and I knew it was regret.
“Many regret wasting their time looking for happiness” he spoke softly and the butterfly flew at the sound of his voice. “I wonder if you would recognize happiness if you found it”.
A beautiful black swallowtail floated into my view. It was majestic and glowed of the deepest purple-black as it sailed over the blooms. I had to know what this one stood for. I rose slowly from the bench afraid that it would fly away at the movement, but it floated towards me as if it wanted to be caught. I held out my hand and it landed in my palm. I brought it close to my face and felt the emotion of sorrow fall heavily upon me. I held it up to show the gardener.
“Ah yes” he said nodding his head “Sorrow. Many hold on to this one.”
I watched the butterfly open and close his wings, hypnotizing me. The bright day began to dim and the color drained from the garden. I could hear the gardener speaking but his voice sounded like it was far away. It took a great effort to tear my focus away from the butterfly and concentrate on what the gardener was saying.
“You enjoyed your pursuit of the butterflies, because you thought they would bring you happiness. You were filled with hope and wonder. You were disappointed when you realized that happiness could not be captured. You now know that happiness is not to be caught but experienced. The pursuit brought you what you were looking for. But you wanted something to hold on to.” He waved his hand “look” he said. I looked out over the garden and I saw nothing but beauty. The scene was filled with many butterflies floating on the nearby blooms. Bird song filled the air and the lovely perfume of the blooms filled my senses. A hummingbird darted close enough for me to hear the hum of its wings. A new emotion began to fill me and I struggled to describe it.
“This is joy,” the gardener whispered in my ear.
“Yes” I agreed, “this is what I was looking for”.
“Look at what you still hold in your hand” he pointed to my upraised palm where the sorrow butterfly sat. With my attention on sorrow, the scene once again went dim.
“Let it go” he urged.
I shook my hand gently to encourage the butterfly to fly away. It held tight to its perch. “It won’t go away,” I cried.
The gardener put his arm around my shoulder. He knew that sorrow was not an easy thing to let go of. “Then you will need to learn to feel them both”. He gently pulled my attention away from the butterfly by turning my chin so my gaze returned to the beautiful garden scene. I allowed both emotions run through me. I started to cry but I was not sure for which emotion. I realized that it really did not matter which one I cried for. The truth became clear and I began to laugh. The gardener joined me; his deep baritone filled the air. We both laughed and cried in celebration of a victory of a war I did not know I was fighting. I denied myself happiness because I had sorrow. I thought if I had one I could not feel the other. I had this illusion that happiness was a life without sorrow. And because I had sorrow I could not hold on to happiness and because I wanted to be happy I was denying myself sorrow. I was numb. I marveled at the joy I felt as both emotions were now being expressed. This is what happiness is.
I lifted my hand and the sorrow butterfly took flight, it was possible to let it go now, knowing that it would be allowed to return. When I returned to sit on the bench I could tell the gardener was pleased. He had a small smile on his face and his eyes were still moist with tears. I searched for words to express my gratitude, but before I could speak he stood. He bent down and placed a kiss on the top of my head. I closed my eyes at the gesture and when I opened them he was gone.
I sat for a moment watching a few lingering butterflies. A slam of the neighbor’s car door and a distant dog barking were my signals that my quiet time has ended. It was time to face my day and live this new lesson I learned.