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  • Writer's pictureM. Linda Graham

Undertaken with Grace and Lightness: Retirement Day #708

Yesterday I dropped off my husband’s jacket for cleaning & a new zipper. As the clerk worked out how to charge for the zipper, a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly landed in the path of the sliding door- should the door close, it would crush the butterfly. I stooped to encourage it to scoot on out of the danger zone, and it hopped onto my hand (salty hooman?). I froze. It proceeded to make its way up my sleeve, discovered my curly nimbus of gray hair (playground!!), then made its way to my right eye, where it clung to my eyebrow and delicately placed its body over my closed eye for some time. My imaginarium of mythology kicked in, and I secretly hoped that my right eye would magically gain the super power of foresight, or MAYBE my extreme myopia would finally be healed! It’s a miracle!! But eventually the clerk worked out the charge process, and my eye was just a little itchy. It was time to move on to the next errand. I coaxed the butterfly to move- it did, onto my right shoulder, where it remained like a pirate parrot for another few minutes while the clerk cooed. Finally, I persuaded my insect buddy to hide itself in a nearby bush and said goodbye.

Butterfly Totem: transformation, undertaken with grace and lightness

It’s been exactly 708 days since I “retired” to pursue “other plans.” Things were going as “planned” when covid-19 hit, hijacking seven of my eight gigs and surprising me with an unexpected hiatus from everything I’d ever done. Not so graceful – not so light. Like someone purging a closet on a snow day, I found myself scrutinizing my previous practices of occupation. What is “previous practices of occupation”? Basically, what I did for a living as a professor of dance. When I retired, I planned to continue teaching and choreographing on contract, presenting workshops, lectures, and indulging in other practices typical of retired professorship. Until covid-19, I didn’t seriously question these activities.

The unexpected gift:

After my encounter with the butterfly, I was going through some old pics and came across a 4th grade photo of my 9yr old self. Looking back at me was a skinny little girl with braids, blissfully unconcerned with her bad bangs, big glasses and bigger ears. She had a fierce gaze; smart, curious, determined, unconquerable - that kid was at the height of her game. But the bright girl got smacked down with puberty. Shame, perfectionism, comparison, “not enough” – these were on the horizon, but they didn’t own the girl in the photo. Yet.

What did she dream of doing? The answer can be found in the eyes of my dogs, the smell of my horse’s mane, the laughter of my children, and the wave of gratitude I feel every morning when I wake up next to my husband. It is in the whisper of the butterfly’s wings: Remember who you were to be who you are. Time to transform.

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