As all dreams—even nightmares—eventually end, so does this one. But the feelings of chaos and uncertainty don’t. I’ve always
lived with that feeling of being in a race against time, that feeling that I have to finish and to beat the clock or face some disaster. My intellectual brain knows that I am stronger than the dream, that no one is coming to “get” me. I remind myself that the panic about something that happened over seven decades ago—long before I was born—should not affect me. But it does. It has.
When my grandmother—Bubby —was growing up in Poland, she was an avid butterfly collector. She created display boxes with colorful, carefully pinned butterflies inside. She was meticulous and appreciated beautiful things. The collection was her pride and joy.
When the Germans came, she told me, she and her family had only a few minutes to pack their most important possessions
into whatever they could carry on their own backs.
She would have to leave her beloved butterflies behind. She was no longer a child, but this was something dear to her. She didn’t know where she was headed, but surely there would be no room for something as beautiful, delicate and nonessential as a butterfly display.
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Bubby never told me how she felt about leaving the collection behind, but I knew. The longing was in her voice and her demeanor; it was part of the story—heck, it was the story—but it wasn’t actually shared in words. Instead, it lingered below, an ever-present reminder of how life could change in an instant, of how beauty and happiness could at the very same time be simple to attain and easy to lose. The loss of control, the loss of what was beautiful, the loss of life as it had been and would never be again—all of this had crushed her then, and it lived within her now.