The scene was terrifying; the kind of fear that tingles and crawls up slowly until the body senses danger and alarms then sounded. Drivers were running into the smoke, converging on some sort of chaos on the other side of the road. I could see a small blaze in front of a truck that sat lopsided in a dry wheat-filled ditch. The air was already thick with a forest fire burning nearby. Now I could smell burning grass and oil.

Being remarkably close to the chaos, every sense was in high gear. Boxed in on a two-lane road, I realized that I might be an unwilling witness to a man near death on the blistering pavement as I saw his saddlebag lying in the road. Several bystanders were trying desperately to extinguish the fire before the acres of wheat behind it caught. I saw more cars stop; bodies were running from all directions toward the fire. My son, who is young in mind, grew incredibly quiet as we watched the tragic and scary scene unfold before us. He told me, “its aright.”

Being in the front of an awfully long line of confused and impatient drivers, I inched slowly forward. As I got closer, I was surprised and suddenly saddened to see a man with a broken helmet still attached, lying in the road. His orange shirt was moving wildly against his skin as brave strangers pumped up and down on his chest. I tried to explain what we were seeing in a calm way to my son, asking him to pray.

It was then that I remembered the butterfly that came to me the day before — one with jagged wings, one I had never seen before. I marveled at this emissary as he fluttered around me. I was sure he was sending me a message. I have always strongly felt that butterflies are messengers from God, especially when they come to you in a particular way. It is this heartfelt truth that I have shared with many others before. Some have scoffed, and others have entertained the possibility. One of those unbelievers is my brother-in-law, who feels strongly that butterflies’ presence only means that there is something dirty and stinky nearby.

That day, many of the same butterflies had surrounded him, and he attributed it to the aroma that hot weather creates. I told him that sometimes God sends many of our winged friends to those who need some extra coaxing to hear his message.

Last summer, as I sat writing, a beautiful large butterfly came to me and circled around my hand and continued to hover over me, flying just inches from my face. I remember thinking that clearly there was a God wink somewhere in that display of motion and quiet intimacy. Immediately, I asked my silent messenger what it was he was trying to tell me. Soon after, a strong thought came to me. I heard the whisper that I needed to change how I responded to things; that happiness would no longer be so elusive. An odd idea indeed, but the following two years, I became immersed in a journey that made me a much healthier person. I started walking a path that enabled me to make better choices. I learned how to understand and respond to others and how to find happiness in the right things instead.

Several days ago, a single courier flew before me, so close that I could see his tiny antennae, flew back again, and then disappeared. I wondered what message he was bringing me this time. That very night, I was notified that a friend had just died of complications from the coronavirus. I did not even know she was ill. The mission from the butterfly became perfectly clear.

Then a day ago, a small butterfly had hovered over me, the same one that was bothering my brother-in-law. It flew away but came back. Again, I wondered what it was I was to glean from its encounter. As I drove through the smoke and saw the man near death, surrounded by heroes, I immediately knew what the meaning of that winged encounter was all about.

Death comes so quickly and unexpectedly. I had asked myself again, am I prepared to depart this earth with no notice at all? Am I making the most of each day because it might be my last? I knew the butterfly came with the message as a reminder that I need not put off for tomorrow my hopes and dreams, that I must make the most of every day. There are so many things I still want to do and even more differences that I would like to make in the lives of others. I am so grateful for my butterfly friends and never dismiss their presence.

Roman Betty Schaaf is a volunteer, a writer, a sojourner and a self-described wellness addict. Betty Schaaf’s email is bettyannschaaf@gmail.com.

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