Right in the center of our little town square is a statue of a beautiful butterfly. She stands in the center of a small, moss-filled circle, which is enclosed with a petite, pebble fence. She is made of polished river stone, and a simple inscription lies on her heart, within the center of her sprawling wing span:
Too Good To Be True
Petal, like me, was a butterfly. But funny enough, she was a butterfly that never flew. Bird attacks, extreme weather, and wildfires and such are natural threats to our kind, but it wasn’t any of these dangers that caused Petal to die. Her demise came about from a most unnatural source; she told a lie.
I know this because my grandmother told me the story many years ago after my first day of school. I remember it like it was yesterday…
That late summer morning, I woke up early in excitement, and rushed my grandmother out of the house so we could get an early start. She led the way to the schoolhouse, flying low through the overgrown brush while I inched along close by, asking questions all the way,
“Granmama, what will happen at school today?”
“Will Francine be there?”
“Is Mr. Marshall my teacher? Ohh I heard he is a meanie.”
“Granmama, will you be with me all day?”
She accepted my question stream with a nod from time to time; answering some and simply smiling at others. But when the brush cleared to reveal the town center and the statue, my line of questioning ceased, and my little caterpillar jaw dropped wide in awe.
“Granmama, whoa, who is that beautiful butterfly?”
For the first time on the walk, she stopped flying to come stand by my side, and said in a quiet, knowing voice, “That is Petal, the butterfly who was too good to be true.”
I didn’t know what this meant, but I was hooked by the mystery. New questions of course flooded my mind, but as I opened my mouth, my grandmother read my thoughts instead and said,
“I will tell you the story when we get home from school today, dear.”
First days of school can be tough for many reasons, but impatience for the day to end and Grandma’s story to begin was my biggest challenge. When we got back home from the schoolhouse, there wasn’t a moment in my heart to wait, “Granmama! I need to know about that butterfly!”
“Alright dear, alright. Come on over and settle down. I’ll make us a nice pot of nectar tea, and then tell the tale.” I climbed up on the sofa, and she put on the kettle before fluttering over to be by my side.
“Snuggle in, little one.”
She held her wing out, and I inched in close. She then closed her wing gently over my body, and began,
“Once there was a little caterpillar named Petal. She was born your average, everyday caterpillar, and lived a daily life as we all do; inching along each day towards becoming the most admired creature in the forest, a beautiful butterfly.”
“Hey, that’s my destiny too, right Granmama?”
“Yes dear, you’re right. We start off as caterpillars, but know deep down we are designed to fly. All caterpillars had, and always will have, this same destiny. Except, for Petal.”
My grandmother raised up and went over to tend the tea.
“Except for Petal? Granmama, why was she different?”
Grandma set the cups on a tray, and flew back to my side, tray in hands. She set it down as she thought a moment, then began again,
“Petal was a sweet girl, always seeing the good in others, and always making a point to say so. If she inched by a fellow forest-mate, and noticed something about them she liked, she would comment on it. “Nice stripes,” if she liked their stripes, or, “My, what delectable leaves you produce, maple tree,” if she liked the taste of the maple tree’s leaves. Everyone felt good when Petal was around, and many began to call her Petal-Love, as nothing other than observations of love ever seemed to spill from her mouth. So, Petal was kind, and shared love often on the outside. But on the inside, things were broken.”
“Broken, like broken glass?”
“Yes, or even more like a mirror...” she paused, then asked,
“Tell me dear, when you look into your tea cup, who do you see?”
“I see my tea, Granmama, of course!”
“No, no, listen dear. Who do you see?”
I looked into my cup, and then understood what she meant.
“Oh, I see ME, Granmama!”
“Ahh yes, of course you do! But for Petal, reflections didn’t quite work this way. When she looked into a lake, or a creek, or even into her own tea cup, she did not see herself. What reflected back was not her image, but rather a broken face that spoke, “A flier, you? Too good to be true.”
“Oh yes. It was a very sad thing. And something similar would happen when Petal looked up to see the women of her village flying high in the sky. She would say with a wistful heart, “Oh, how beautiful are these women of my village! So gifted and talented and flying so high!” Petal showing love on the outside, you see? But on the inside, her voice would speak, “A flier, you? Too good to be true.”
“Did Petal ever yell back at this voice? It sounds terrible.”
“Oh no dear. Petal was so busy with life and tending her connection to others that she never acknowledged the voice inside. In fact, this lie was so sneaky, Petal didn’t even recognize it as her own! Not until, of course, she was forced to face it within the silence of her own cocoon.”
“Whoa, that sounds super spooky. She had to be so brave to do something like that. How did she ever survive?”
“Well dear, that’s the problem. She didn’t. Take a sip of your tea my dear, and I will tell you why.”
I remember sipping my tea, but not tasting anything. My wide eyes stared back at my grandmother, as she continued,
“Petal’s chrysalis day was a typical caterpillar’s chrysalis day; she inched through the forest, growing heavy and tired from the journey, as well as from her full and heavy belly, and settled on the underside of loose birch bark for her pupa space. She began her work, creating her cocoon home from the bottom up, and left a tiny window at the top for her eyes to view the world one final time as a caterpillar. Thinking she would emerge in two-week’s time as a butterfly, she spoke aloud with joy, “I cannot wait to fly!” But as she spun the final space closed and the light disappeared, she heard the voice loud and clear, “A flier, you? Too good to be true.” With no light to keep her heart bright, Petal had no choice but to consume the lie as truth, and that is when sadness consumed her. Her eyes closed, and while sheltered deep in the long darkness, her warped story slowly took over her soul and rewrote her destiny.”
For the second time that day my jaw dropped, but this time from fear. My grandmother noticed, gently removed the tea cup from my hands and placed it off to the side, and snuggled me closer.
We sat in silence for some time before she began again, “On the day of Petal’s awakening, the sun was bright and just beginning to rise in the east. As the rays struck her chrysalis, it began to soften, and Petal began to emerge. Several fellow forest-mates had gathered round to welcome Petal-Love back into the world, but what they soon witnessed only sickened their hearts. For as the sun rose and revealed Petal’s interior, all that lingered was a spectacular, dead black butterfly. Too good to be true had in fact, come true. Petal-Love was no more, and only her lie lived on to tell the tale.”
I stared at my grandmother for what seemed like eternity, before feeling a jolt in my heart. My sadness had flipped a switch, and angry tears began streaming down my face.
“This doesn’t make any sense. Granmama, how did a lie kill Petal? A lie is not even a real thing. I don’t get it and I don’t believe it. This is a terrible story and I don’t want to hear any more! She doesn’t deserve a statue. Petal doesn’t deserve anything.”
I pulled away from my grandmother’s embrace, but her wings remained calm and her face as soft as always. She let me cry for some time before speaking again,
“The power of lies can be hard to believe. And “too good to be true” is the greatest lie a heart can hear, as it steals a soul’s joy - a soul’s purpose - and therefore has the power to take life away. For Petal-Love, its power unmade what she was destined to be, and it has the power to do the same to you, if you believe it.”
I blinked and my tears stopped, and Grandma continued,
“Dear, I tell you Petal’s story, as all the women in the village tell this story to their children and grandchildren, to prevent it from ever happening again. We erected her statue to remind us all that our greatest threat in life is not the birds, bad weather, or wildfires, but the fear that grows when we do not show love to ourself. Fear is what laid the lie in Petal’s heart, and fear is what made her believe it.”
To this day I still find it hard to believe a lie so powerful could exist; Petal was a butterfly, but a lie made her not so. How could this be? And whether her story was some sort of metamorphed metaphor or not, my grandmother would never tell.
But from time to time, on days when I’m dreaming big and flying high, my own sinister tone can begin to play, “What, you? Too good to be true,” attempting to unravel the integrity of my being, and trying to convince me that I could never be Me. It is in these times that I remember Petal-Love’s story. For to live I have no choice but to believe the truth; life can flow only when bliss is at the helm.