If you’re ever in need of an escape to reset your head and find a little bit of peace in the chaos that swirls around you, I highly recommend Thailand. I have lots of stories and photos to share about the elephants I met, but today I have a different story to tell.
Although not quite intentional, when I planned this trip I realized I was returning the day before my son’s tenth birthday, which is also the one year anniversary of my mother’s death. To spend the two weeks leading up to it in a dream fugue of green hills and silent Buddhas was a serendipitous gift that I really needed, because otherwise I would be at home, reliving those long painful days.
Partway through the trip, our group left the elephant sanctuary for the day and travelled to a small offshoot, where the park personnel were working with a large group of macaques. These monkeys, over a hundred of them, had been seized from the streets of Bangkok by the Thai government and were set to be sold to a laboratory before the park founder intervened and took them in to the sanctuary with little more than two weeks’ notice.
It is, to put it mildly, a large undertaking.
When we arrived, a small cadre of volunteers was upgrading the enclosures and getting a handle on one of the first orders of business: neutering the male monkeys. This is necessary for a variety of reasons; behavioral, and the fact that as adorable as all the babies were, they didn’t need to add more to the mix.
But needless to say, the monkeys themselves were not as thrilled with the idea. They are smart. They know what the little blowdarts mean: someone gets sleepy and goes away for a bit; and they were really, really good at evading them.
Two unsuccessful hours in, as we were still watching the goings-on and waiting for someone to neuter, a small motion caught my eye. It was a bright orange butterfly.
Butterflies have long been my mother’s favorite creature; it is impossible for me to see one and not think of her. They are, and always have been, her avatar. And I, who had been studiously avoiding getting into my head on the topic, had no choice but to sit and think about her.
The butterfly eventually flitted on further into the field, slowly and lazily as if to wait for me to get the hint, so I followed.
I vaguely heard people calling after me as I wandered off, but my attention was turned elsewhere: The field this butterfly had led me to was alive.
I had never seen so many different butterflies all in one place; the green ones that looked like leaves caught on the wind; the orange one that flew like scattered flower petals; the small grey ones on the ground that sat like pebbles until, unfurling their wings, they revealed themselves to be blue.
I didn’t even notice the one on the left at first; a camouflaged creature, hiding in plain sight, watching over the three remaining orange butterflies.
When I saw it, so hidden yet just as real as the remaining three, it hit me so suddenly that my breath caught. A whisper on the wind as clear as day: She is here. She is always here, all around you, and your dad, and your sister.
I hadn’t been expecting such an obvious revelation, and certainly not in what appeared to be an empty field, but I seem to require very deliberate signs from the universe in order to pay attention.
Eventually Teri came bushwhacking to scrape me off the riverbank and let me know a monkey was ready for a neuter. I had found a riverbed where the butterflies swirled, and in that silent contemplation, I was able to get up and go back to the insanity of our lives.