And what I know is that everything I touch just turns to dust …
~ Craig Manning
When I was in second grade, I was pretty prone to misbehavior. One evening, my mother caught me trying to forge her signature on a note that got sent home about my “attitude.” Thank God she caught me, because seven-year-olds should never attempt cursive forgery.
Later in the year, there was another note, and also the principal’s office. I got in more active trouble than any other grade, including high school. In spite of, or perhaps because of that, I loved my teacher Miss Markey.
Do you know how in Ramona the Pest, Ramona so badly wants to please her beautiful teacher Miss Binney? Ramona sits as quietly and properly as possible, until she loses it and pulls one of Susan’s boing-boing curls or starts fake snoring during naptime. And she’d ultimately fail at winning Miss Binney’s love. Well, that’s how I felt with Miss Markey.
One day, I was supposed to get another note home, but I did not think my parents were gonna be particularly feeling that, so I pleaded with Miss Markey to spare me. Instead of the note, she let me clean out her desk.
While serving the lessened sentence, I came across a remarkable discovery — a box of the most beautiful jewelry I’d ever seen in my whole life. Butterfly pins, in all different colors, resting exquisitely against a bed of white cotton.
I felt blessed to behold such a sight. I’d only ever seen elderly women’s jewelry or kids’ jewelry. My mom didn’t really wear it. That an accessory could be so filled with color and delicate artistry, in the shape of butterflies no less, opened up a whole new part of my imagination. In a very serious tone, I thanked Miss Markey for the opportunity to clean her desk and look at the amazing butterflies. And you’d think she’d have given me a Those Kittens Looked Like Twins reaction, but Miss Markey always had a real understanding of me in that mystical way that few possess.
On the last day of second grade, we all engaged in end-of-the-year festivities. Before the last bell rang, Miss Markey told me she’d like a word with me.
I was so worried. It seemed like I’d gone at least a whole (half-)day without any mishaps! Was I getting in last-minute trouble?
Miss Markey handed me a box. The box. I opened it up, and sure enough, there they were, the butterflies. A thousand times more beautiful than before, but in a different way now that they were…mine? I stared up at Miss Markey, mouth agape.
“I want you to have them,” she confirmed. She looked happy, and she looked proud. Like maybe she even kind of liked me a little bit, despite all the trouble. And that moment meant everything to me.
I would love to show you a picture of these butterfly pins, and tell you that all these years later, they are my favorite possession. But I lost and/or broke them all years ago. Not on purpose. But they’re gone.
This morning, I was wearing butterfly earrings and one of them fell down the sink drain, just like that. As I watched it go, I thought about my beloved butterfly pins. Why didn’t I take better care of them? If I loved them, how could I let them get destroyed?
One year before receiving the butterflies from Miss Markey, I’d spent a desperate afternoon trying to get my Annie ring back after it slipped off in the lake. I put everything I had into diving down over and over, trying to find it in the water, the sand — wherever the ring had gotten lost, I was going to find it.
But I didn’t.
I do that. I alternate between desperately trying to hold onto something that doesn’t want to be held, and shaking off that which is beautiful — that which is a gift — simply so I don’t have to watch it float away.
I’m going to try really hard not to do that anymore.