Many years ago I worked at a Christian treatment center for addictions with clients ranging from physicians and judges to homeless men and women, all who were psychologically dependent on alcohol, cocaine, heroin, sex, gambling, eating, the internet, working, etc.
On one particular day, I met a new client (who I will call Patty – all details have been fictionalized and changed to protect confidentiality). She wanted to sit outside, instead of in the dark rooms inhabited by all the other patients in the treatment center. She was a buxom woman of about thirty two, although the lines around her eyes made her appear much older. She wore a blue sun hat, which drooped mournfully over her faraway aquamarine eyes. Her round impish face was drained of color as she sucked on a long, lifeless cigarette, drawing out her vanquished grace and beauty as if it were some sort of death inducing syringe.
I decided to ask her why she had chosen this time to seek treatment.
“Do you know that I am writing a one-woman-show? It’s called ‘How I got addicted to earplugs.’ It’s really funny.”
That sounds interesting. And do you really wear earplugs?”
“Every night. And sometimes during the day too. In fact I’d be wearing them right now if they hadn’t taken them away from me at the front desk? Plus…” she sighed finally getting to my question. “I’m here to listen. Cause I feel like I’m going crazy.”
She looked at me for the first time. It is a look of desperation, a look of years of sexual abuse by her father, of going to church with her mother to listen to her father’s sermons.
She told me about her childhood, about how her mother wanted her to be a child actress like Shirley Temple. She told me how she was in lots of television commercials where her mother told her to “put on a happy face” even when she came home at night and was repeatedly sexually abused by her father. She told me how she started drinking her father’s whisky before he came home from church so that she would not remember what he would do to her or say to her. And as she told me she put her hands over her ears and began to cry softly.
We sat in silence for quite a while. The wind blows and makes the trees sway as if they are trying to comfort her.
She then looks up above my head and gasps. “Oh my God!”
I turn around and see that a beautiful butterfly has gotten itself caught in an enormous spider-web that is spread out between two trees. Instinctively, Patty gets up from her chair and walks over to the spider-web. Her voice became high-pitched as if she were a little girl.
“It’s okay little butterfly,” she said as she slowly begins tearing down the spider-web with the palms of her hand. “It’s okay. I’m gonna free you now. I’m gonna free you.”
The butterfly drops to the grass beneath the broken spider-web, it’s wings appearing still and lifeless. Patty stares at the butterfly for a while then disappointed that it is not moving walks back over to her chair.
“I think she might be dead,” she says sadly as she pulls out another cigarette.
Patty told me that her whole life she had felt like the lifeless butterfly. That she has been caught in a spider-web, a dark prison that has kept her from flying away and being free. She had tried to escape this prison by leaning on the sermons she learned at her Church, but because her father was the priest and because she felt trapped by the structure of the church, the sermons held nothing for her. They are like waterless canals, empty passages that lead her even further into the darkness.
I looked at Patty, and from underneath her blue hat I saw in her: a goddess of wisdom, creation, redemption and suffering. Yet, because of her years of silence, a chain of forgetfulness began. She and the whole world drank their father’s whisky, acted in television commercials and went shopping at the mall to buy blue hats that are specifically crafted by American companies to help hide her profound sense of pain.
Burrowed deep within her, her pain was nestled, singing the praises of the church, of her abusive father who assisted them in keeping her asleep, numb and in the dark.
Yet as she stared at the lifeless butterfly she told me that she still yearned to bring back the light that once danced in her body, to restore what was stolen from her by her father and her mother who turned her cheek to what was occurring. And that is why she was here – to awaken the light of long, long ago, to find her way out of the darkness and back to the hidden God, to experience her true gnosis.
Suddenly we both noticed something miraculous. The butterfly was moving it’s bright yellow wings as if it may perhaps fly. They slowly opened and closed like a luminous gift that was extending itself to all of creation.
“She’s alive!” Patty screams. “She’s alive!”
And with that, the butterfly lifted off of the grass, like Christ resurrected landing with no accident on Patty’s shoulder. There she sat for what seems like hours, a divine maiden, opening and closing her wings as we, her spectators witness her beauty and power in utter amazement.
And with that, she hurried her wings and lifted herself into the air. We both watched her fly into the light, raising herself up into to the heavens.
It is difficult to know what happened on that day when Patty freed the butterfly from the spider-web. It is hard to say if the butterfly appeared in order to free her or if she appeared in order to free the butterfly. Either way they have both been released, soaring at this moment somewhere above the earth and clouds, a step closer to their original star from whence they both had come.
In what way are you the butterfly trapped
in the spiderweb, longing to be free?