Les rêveries du retraité solitaire

Les rêveries du retraité solitaire

Maria and the Butterfly

In 2014, on the first of July, our cottage was destroyed by a tornado. Two trees were broken by the fierce wind and fell on the roof and into the living room of our cottage. The porch was completely destroyed. There was shattered glass everywhere. A lot of cottages in our area were hit by the storm but strangely enough some of them did not sustain any damage. Power lines were down. The swing that we had bought a few weeks before was in pieces scattered all over the place. A few cars were crushed by fallen trees. Even if there was a lot of damage, nobody was hurt.


A few days later, we were at what was left of our cottage waiting for the insurance adjuster to come to assess the damage. We were watching our neighbours cutting down branches and what was left of the branchless trees on their properties. We could hear chainsaws everywhere. There was a strong smell of wood in the air. We had to be careful when we walked because there were still wires on the ground.


In the midst of that turmoil, Maria saw a butterfly landing on the stump of a broken tree. “A butterfly”, she said and her attention was immediately focused on that butterfly as if it was the most important thing in the world. For her, in that instant, everything else had ceased to exist. She was smiling and her eyes were sparkling with excitement as she was admiring the colours of that fragile and gracious creature. And the two of them, Maria and the butterfly, seemed so oblivious to the rest of the world.   


Living with Maria, I am constantly reminded of all the beauties surrounding us, “Look at the sky! Look at the moon! Look at the heron! Look at the hummingbird! Look at the clouds, the river, the flowers, the trees…” She has that sense of wonder that children have before they start to worry about adult things and become no longer able to see and appreciate the beauties around them. Although she is able to make plans for the future, Maria lives intensely in the present. She doesn’t let the past and the future interfere with the present instant. In her own way, she is a philosopher. Even if she has never read any of his books or any philosophical books for that matter, I can tell that a lot of the things that she says can be found in the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh[1]. Here’s an example, “People sacrifice the present for the future. But life is available only in the present. That is why we should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and now.”


In 2002, when she was on chemotherapy, Maria had to spend a few days in the hospital. Because her immune system had become so weak, she was very vulnerable to infections. One day, after going to a public swimming pool, her temperature started to rise very quickly. When she phoned the hospital, they told her to come right away. A few days after, I arrived at the hospital early to visit her. She didn’t see me when I came. She was walking slowly behind an intravenous pole from which were hanging bottles and bags. She had no hair and no eyebrows but she was smiling, and all I could see was her smile. I remember thinking to myself, “How can she be smiling in a situation like this?” I later found out that more cancer patients on chemotherapy die from infections than their cancer. She knew that. She didn’t tell me because she knew that I would have been too nervous. She knew that but she had no fear.


I don’t know if it’s in her nature, because of her faith[2] or all the difficult things she went through in her life, but she was not scared. I know it has a lot to do with her mother. Her mother was her role model and a very important person in her life. On the subject of fear, here’s what Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “Fearlessness is the only possible; it is the ultimate joy. When you touch nonfear, you are free.” I am quite the opposite of Maria. I am rather pessimistic and I worry a lot about the future, but I am changing. It’s never too late. I am not as sad when I don’t hear from my family. I know that ultimately I am the only one responsible for my happiness. I try not to worry too much about the future especially my fear of dying alone if Maria happens to go before me.


In the summer, when we are at the cottage, Maria takes her bike to go to the farmer’s to buy eggs. To go there, she has to take a trail in the middle of a corn field. Last July, on her way to the farm, she was swarmed by yellow butterflies. They followed her for a while and they disappeared. When she came back with the eggs, she was still excited about her experience. “It was so beautiful”, she said. And she was smiling. Another quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, simple but so true, summarizes what I wanted to say in this article “Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful”.

[1] Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who wrote several books about philosophy and spirituality.

[2] Maria is Catholic.



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