It’s morning, and I’m walking down our long upstairs hallway toward my brother’s bedroom. Just moments before, Kurt had woken me up, telling me I needed to come look at something. I hadn’t wanted to get out of bed, but he’d insisted. So here I am, eight years old, following my brother down the hall while I’m still half asleep, wondering what on earth warrants this type of urgency so early in the day. His door is closed, but when we reach it, Kurt turns back toward me instead of going in.
“Ready?” he asks.
“Ready for what?” I whisper impatiently.
“For this.” Kurt places his hand on the knob and gently pushes the door open.
I follow him into his room and look around. From where I stand, everything appears the same as it always is. Though his room is full of fascinating creatures—colorful fish, sticky tree frogs, and slimy mud puppies—this is nothing out of the ordinary: Kurt has been interested in nature and science for as long as I can remember, and his unique collection of pets have been a mainstay.
“It’s just your room. Same as always,” I say.
“Look closer,” he insists.
I rub my eyes, and as they slowly start to adjust to sunlight that is softly filtering into his room, I finally see just what it is Kurt is talking about.
Aside from his collection of slimy creatures, Kurt also has a knack for finding caterpillars and giving them a space to metamorphosize into butterflies and moths. Most recently, he’d come across a whole group of Luna caterpillars and then created the perfect environment for them to survive. We have been marveling over their beautiful cocoons wondering when they will emerge, but it appears our wait is over: His room is filled with a over a dozen newly-hatched Luna moths.
Their pale, green wings slowly open and close as they adjust to their newness. Part of me thinks I should be scared by these large moths—ones whose wings have the imprint of eyes, ones that look like they are staring right back at you. But I’m not. As I stare in awe at these creatures, all I can think of is that they’re finally here. That they survived those long days in their cocoons. That sometime in the middle of the night they finally decided it was time to spread their wings. But mostly, I think about just how beautiful they are.
I stand there quietly, watching their wings start flapping faster, watching these moths start fluttering from one place to another as they become more confident in their new world. I stay there for a while, wanting to be surrounded by this beauty for as long as possible, wanting to preserve it for as long as we can before we have to set them free.
* * *
Though it is still morning and the Ohio sun is hot, its rays happily kiss my cheeks. I’ve lived in an arid, dry climate long enough now that this mid-August vacation—the one where my daughter Zoey and I have gone back to Toledo to visit my parents, my brother, my niece, and my nephew—allows me to appreciate the heavy, damp heat to which the Midwest stakes its claim.
We are all visiting Ohio’s largest living-history village, taking a trip back in time by exploring its farm and fun, family-friendly activities. As we wait for the next available train ride, my brother motions us over to where he stands.
“There’s a monarch caterpillar on this plant. Can you guys find it?” he asks.
The kids lean down over the flash of green, their six eyes searching for a small, striped caterpillar.
“Where is it? Where is it?” they collectively wonder, turning to look back at Kurt, hoping he will give them a hint. Though the three of them are just cousins, they share similar features, and, looking at them and all of their blue eyes, it would be easy to convince someone that they are all siblings.
“It’s up toward the top,” Kurt says, pointing back down toward the plant. “Look closely: It’s really, really tiny.”
“Oh!” Zoey exclaims after a few more seconds of searching. She begins jumping up in down in excitement, her little finger pointing. “I see it!” Her cousins finally notice it, too, and then after they admire it together, they happily run off to get in line for the train.
I stay back for a second to see if I, too, can find this pint-sized wonder. I can’t see it, so I step in closer, and then, finally, it comes into view.
My brother was right: the caterpillar—perched precariously on the edge of a small, green leaf and the size of barely a pinhead—is so tiny that anyone not looking would surely pass it by.
* * *
Later, I walk hand-in-hand with Zoey, exploring a nearby garden. Though it is small, it is lush and full of life: Eight-foot-high sunflowers extend toward the sky, early fall gourds crawl across the ground, and twirling vines twist up an old, wooden fence. Flowers and fruits and vegetables and a variety of herbs are growing everywhere.
But off to the side, a raised bed holds something different. Small replicas of buildings are scattered throughout the dirt, creating a miniature town.
“Look, Zoey,” I say as I kneel down, my movement causing Zoey to lower herself to the ground beside me. “Check this out—it’s a little town.”
She leans against me and lets her head gently rest against my ribs.
“That baby caterpillar would fit in perfectly here,” Zoey says.
I nod in agreement. “It’s just her size.”
Zoey’s head stays nestled against my chest, but I feel it turn, and when I look down, I can see her eyes. They are clouded with curiosity.
“How does it stay safe?” she asks.
“How does what stay safe, peanut?” I smooth back a few strands of sweaty hair away from her forehead, the one that isn’t used to this humid, Midwest heat.
“The caterpillar. She was so small. I mean, she could get eaten by a bee or walk all over that prickly vegetable over there. How does she survive all this and then somehow turn into that?” She points above us to a bright orange monarch lazily flapping in the light breeze.
We admire it for a second before she floats away for good, in search of something sweet.
Watching the monarch fly away, I’m reminded of those early morning Luna moths from my childhood.
“Her environment helps nurture her,” I tell Zoey. “It helps preserve her, and it helps protect her.”
A tiny red ladybug slowly makes its way across one the bed’s wooden beams.
“Look, Mommy!” Zoey exclaims. She places her hand down on the wood to let the black-spotted beetle climb onto her finger. After letting it find safety in her palm, Zoey leans over and places her hand through the doorway of a little house. She gently tilts her hand so that the ladybug falls into the dirt.
Zoey turns back to me and then climbs into my lap.
“I think she’ll be nice and safe there,” Zoey says, smiling. “Just like I’m nice and safe right here with you.”
I wrap my arms around Zoey and hold her as close as I possibly can.
Zoey’s actions and words show me she understands everything I’ve just told her, and I hope she knows that the hug that I’ve just given her shows her that I will do everything I can to nurture, protect, and preserve the beauty that lives in her sweet, gentle, fragile, little heart. I may not be able to do everything, but I can at least do this.
* * *
Lately, I’m left wondering how we can protect and preserve the beautiful, fragile things in our lives so that they can find a way to survive. So that they don’t get lost in the shuffle or get pushed aside and are left neglected in dark corners. So that they don’t become overshadowed by sadness or what appears to be a seemingly endless string of dark days.
I frequently find myself wondering what my role is in all of this, because at the end of the day, I know it’s up to me. It’s up to Zoey. It’s up to all of us. So this is what I will try to teach Zoey, what I will try to remember to do, what I hope we all will do:
Let’s focus on finding the beauty, and when we do happen upon it, let us preserve it and protect it. Let’s wrap it up in a safe, warm cocoon so that one day it has a chance to fly free, and then, let’s help it survive. Let’s let it become everything, so it’s no longer the secondary thing that the world tries so hard to make it be sometimes.
Let’s let the beauty we find in our lives be the thing that saves us all.
Let me know: Where do you find beauty in your life? How you do make beauty add brightness to your dark days? What do you do to try to preserve and protect the beauty present in your life?
Just joining me on my journey? Catch up on the Everyday Nostalgia series here.
At The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.