I never saw her butterfly collection. But I knew what it looked like. I knew. The fragile wings, the vibrant yellows and reds, the delicately placed pins, the rows. This was the first story I knew. It taught me that there is potential danger, heartache and suffering in every person and every situation, no matter how happy or contented they may feel in the moment.
It taught me the impermanence of beauty. It also made me question effort and energy and time: Why invest in them if nothing lasts, if nothing is forever, if it can all be taken away? It taught me that getting attached to anything precious—even people—was dangerous. I knew I needed to be on top of everything, to control everything.
Above all, the butterflies represented fear. Fear, because I wondered, especially as a child, if such things could happen to me, too. If someone might someday come for me or for my family.
It filled me with fear, with the certainty that not only were horrible things horrible, but that wonderful things could turn horrible in an instant.
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Bubby’s stories always included wistful and loving descriptions of what life was like before—of the happiness and pleasure she had from her family, her friends, her schools and her wonderful life as a Jewish person in Lodz, the secondlargest city in Poland. It sounded as if her life before the Nazi occupation had been at least as settled and stable—perhaps more so—than mine. So it stood to reason (at least in my young mind) that horror was not far removed from any of it.