Fleeting Beauty / Guernica Jones

A delivery person brought a package marked CONTAINS LIVE INSECTS for my 4-year-old daughter. I helped her open the thin rectangular box to find a small, clear plastic cup containing five tiny caterpillars in various states of repose amid an unsightly brown paste. These caterpillars would, with minimal care, become butterflies. My daughter was (and remains) ecstatic. This mystery present was the perfect thing for a little kid to receive amid ongoing shelter-in-place directives.

On a rainy afternoon, my daughter and I sat in her bedroom observing the caterpillars while an iPad recorded a time-lapse video of the proto-butterflies in action. It was Tuesday, midday, a work day by other measures, yet there we sat for several hours. I soaked in the boundless positivity and awe of a young child's worldview as rain fell outside, the world labored under various states of lock down, millions suddenly jobless, millions more thrust into precariousness, yet I was fortunate to experience pure beauty, a singular moment that would not have occurred otherwise. Outside of the bizarre reality of the current pandemic, I would not be home with my daughter on a Tuesday afternoon, and a friend wouldn't have sent us a butterfly grow kit as a gesture of kindness and solidarity in extraordinary and and trying times.

To find such joy at this juncture in history is a guilty pleasure, undeserved good fortune. It's a luxury, born of entitlement, the pleasures of the leisure class, and ultimately a combination of several factors including but not limited to: race, gender, sheer luck, steady employment in a comfortable white collar job, and some measure of financial stability. Ultimately, I am neither essential nor important. My highest and best use in this crisis is to stay home with my daughter. I am a lucky bastard.

As nurses, doctors, grocery store workers, factory workers, waste collectors, bus drivers, police, firefighters, EMTs, and many other maintainers put themselves in danger, as a few thousand Americans die every day, I gain hours I wouldn't have otherwise spent with my one and only child. Already over the course of the pandemic the total must exceed one hundred hours. By July or September or January it will equate to entire months I wouldn't have had in the non-COVID timeline.

Unfortunately this isn't the case for many, especially the essential workers, yet people should experience this kind of bounty, these brief moments of beauty and peace. Surely I'm not the only one to have this kind of experience, but the opportunity is far from evenly distributed. It is available to the fortunate ones.

If we - the human collective, as a civilization - learn any enduring lessons from this universal crisis, it's the value of finding beauty, however fleeting, whenever and wherever we can, and the value of slowness and quiet, the value of sitting still to watch caterpillars mosey around, taking time to smell the flowers, hearing the sound of silence, and so on. We all need and deserve time to watch the bugs, listen to the wind and rain, feel the warmest sunshine and the coldest wind, the warmth of other people and animals.

In a few weeks, my daughter and I will release the butterflies, after they've tripled in size, shed various chunks of exoskeleton, and emerged from their chrysalises. The painted lady butterflies will share their fleeting beauty with the rest of the world.