Butterflies & Piglets



It began just like any other day when I woke up early, but not quite as early as I intended. I like to get some work done while the house is still quiet and the air is still fresh and cooler than the sweltering heat of midday. As is my routine, I went around our home opening windows to allow the morning air inside. Even though our windows have screens in them, we usually keep them closed at night as double protection against mosquitoes who seem able to sneak through the smallest cracks and crevices. As I was opening the living room window I saw something black hanging from a leaf of the palm that we have outside of the window. (Here in India it is very common to have mini balconies outside of your windows that are only for plants, and not for people.) This small black thing was barely more than an inch in size. I wondered briefly if it might be a chrysalis, but the bottom of it looked more like a fat worm. There are lots of unusual-to-me bugs and critters here in India, and the black color caused me to doubt that it had anything to do with a butterfly. All of the beautiful chrysalis I had seen in butterfly houses years ago looked like magical gems that faery folk might wear on a chain around their necks. None of them were black or worm-like.  So I merely made a mental note to check back later and make sure that no menacing critter would be destroying my palm plant in the coming days. Then off I went to a quiet room to get some work done. 


It was about 2 hours later when I walked back through the home and noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that now on the very same palm plant was a much larger black something. A few steps closer and I could see that it was a black butterfly! Indeed, the object that I had first seen WAS a chrysalis and it hung there still, on the palm leaf beside the butterfly, but now it was clear and empty. I was delighted. How magical! In all the years of my past, when I had a rather extensive, wild and lush garden that covered almost a quarter acre of land, I had never ever seen any chrysalis there, despite planting and cultivating a variety of flowers that supposedly would attract and feed butterflies and their caterpillars. It was so amazing to me that I instantly wished to share it with someone. I peeked into the bedroom but my husband was still sleeping. So I went to the kitchen to share this event with our housekeeper who was busy preparing our breakfast. (It is very common in India for households to employ domestic help.) Then, using my broken Hindi, lots of hand gestures, and my translation app, I led her to the living room window and tried to explain what had happened. I also explained that after a butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, it will sit for sometime on the plant, allowing its wings to dry before its first flight. However, as is usually the case over here, I was not understood. She opened the screened window, I thought to get a better look at it, but then reached out her hand and shook the palm plant to make the butterfly fly away! 🙁 That poor butterfly’s first flight was a forced one, and perhaps before it was ready. It flapped away and descended down away from our view from the 6th floor. I cried out; “Kyon??” (meaning “why?”)  when I realized what she had done.  Her response was that I shouldn’t worry because it will come back again. I suppose she thought I was upset that the butterfly flew away. She hadn’t understood anything I had tried to communicate about how the butterfly had only just now emerged from the chrysalis and that it must sit for a while to dry its wings before it can fly. She knew I was upset, and she said “sorry” but she did not understand why I was upset. I was also hoping that the butterfly might sit there a little while longer, long enough for my husband to catch a glimpse of it too. But it was gone, and hopefully its wings were dry enough that it could survive its first awkward flight. 


The incident made me feel lonely. So many things, beautiful things, magical things, amazing things, I would like to share with those around me, but seldom am I understood fully. It goes beyond a language barrier. As my husband said when he was trying to comfort me later; “Remember, we are different. People don’t always understand us or think like we do. A lot of people in this world don’t care at all about butterflies or think that they are anything magical or amazing. She probably thought it was some kind of bug that you were asking her to remove for you. She wouldn’t think that you were just trying to share a magical moment with her” 


He is such a sweet man, and his words were not wrong, but they made me feel even more lonely. What kind of world is this where people would not be positively delighted to witness a butterfly’s first flight? Another thing that was bouncing around in my mind was the fact that today was my Uncle Walt’s birthday. He passed away in 2020, and I still really miss him. He was a true father figure to me and his loss often feels like a gaping hole in my life. This was one of those days. Really, it was such an amazing thing to witness a butterfly’s “birth” on the anniversary of my Uncle Walt’s birthday. But if I can’t even explain about a butterfly needing to dry its wings, how could I ever hope to share with anyone here about this magical event, about the love in my heart and the wonder and beauty of this wild existence? I felt defeated. 


Rather than sitting around feeling blue, I took our dog, Oliver, out for his morning walk, where daily we stroll up and down the street, alongside the canal, and I pretend not to notice how many of the people going by are staring at me; the stranger in this foreign land. And so we walked along slowly, stopping often so that Oliver could take in all of the scents. I tried to think about all the good things in my life. As I watched the birds, butterflies and dragonflies flying here and there, I started to feel less sad. There are so many wonderful things about my life now. And if the price I have to pay for this life is sometimes feeling a little lonely and blue, then it is still more than worth such a price. I knew this loneliness would pass. For now I made an effort to enjoy the beauty around me. 


Then we came upon the wild pigs, who were enjoying their breakfast down below on the bank of the canal. We watched for a long time on the street above, which was a very safe distance for all of us. It seemed there were 3 families of piggies, based on the 3 large females I saw and the NINETEEN piglets who seemed to be of 3 distinct sizes; tiny, small, or medium. Some were all black. Some were white with big black patches while others were white with brown stripes that ran from head to tail.  Only two were a darker brown with black stripes. It was really something to see them all frolicking while the adults were foraging around the bank, through the trash and through the plants, searching for their own meal. Then one of the adult females dropped down onto her side to provide easy access to breakfast for her suckling piglets and this caused a bit of commotion. It seemed that there were more piglets (and I doubt that all of them were even hers!) that wanted a meal than there was, shall we say, available space. The tiny piglets began their adorable competition for mother’s milk by clamoring about, climbing on top of each other, and all amidst the sound of squeals and oinks! This proved too much for my Oliver, who began to get quite excited and at one point I feared he might try to jump right over the little half wall and run down the bank, into the mud to become part of the feeding frenzy. Therefore I encouraged him to walk along. We slowly departed from that spot and continued down the street again. Oliver was happily sniffing this and that and occasionally giving return stares to the folks who might be staring at me. (It pleases me maybe more than it should that my dog stares blatantly at anyone who is staring at me. I will even purposefully halt our strolling just so Oliver can do his “dead stop and stare” right back at them. Most often the person stops staring before Oliver does!)


We walked along, heading slowly back towards our home and then I looked up to see Susheela there, smiling at me and saying hello. Who is Susheela? She is a friend of my mother-in-law’s who lives a few buildings down. I don’t see her often, but whenever I do she calls out to me, waves and says hello. When I see her she is usually heading to her office and doesn’t have much time to chat. Even so, she makes a point to always say hello. If she is on the other side of the busy street, she will lift her voice over the noise of the traffic to send me her greeting. She always calls me by name with a beautiful smile on her face. In that simple act of kindness she makes me feel like I belong here. She makes me feel that this is also MY neighborhood and that I belong here as much as anyone else. After her friendly greeting, I no longer feel like a stranger here. 


Truth be told, life here is really awesome. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I am living a life that previously I didn’t dare to dream was possible. So if some adjustments are required, if some loneliness creeps in now and again, I will take it on perhaps more willingly now. Just as a hiker knows that sore feet, bug bites and sunburn might be the price for hiking up that glorious mountain, I would rather have sore feet, a spectacular mountain view, and an incredible feeling of accomplishment than to stay at the bottom and wonder how different life might have been if I had done the climb. 


I got back to our home feeling much lighter than when I left. Of course it is reasonable to expect that some adjustments will be required when living in a foreign land. But today I was reminded again, that it is totally worth it. Some days are harder than others, for sure, but the challenge is part of the adventure. I always say that if everything is smooth and easy then it cannot be called an adventure. An “adventure” is defined as an “unusual and exciting or daring experience.” Therefore, because I wish to have an adventurous life, I must accept that in the “unusualness” of it all, there will be times when I am not understood by others. There may be times when I feel very alone in my adventure, but I would still choose it over being comfortable and bored in a non-adventurous life. 


A butterfly emerged from its chrysalis today, on the anniversary of my beloved Uncle Walt’s birthday, and it will journey now for the first time on wings, through the air, in what might feel like magic after spending so much time slowly crawling along in such a limited space as compared to floating away on the breeze as a butterfly. Now it will sip sweet nectar instead of munching on green leaves. This particular butterfly was given, perhaps, much less time than most to adjust to its new life before taking its first flight. But I feel certain that it is ready for whatever adventures await. 


Myself, my Uncle Walt, a butterfly and a bunch of piglets: Beautiful souls on new adventures, whether we were ready or not. 


And a bad photo of some of the piggies, which was difficult to take while Oliver was wildly jumping at the other end of the leash that I was holding. 

Lots of love,


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