Crossing the Great Divide | FMBR Short Story Entry 2016

FMBR Short Story Entry 2016

Crossing the Great Divide

by Amber Balk

She was seven years old when her grandfather died, but what she remembered most from that time was an event that happened about a month before his death. She was playing in the front yard, chasing after monarch butterflies as they flitted through--this time of the year was notorious for massive monarch migrations. Her mother had left the flower garden intentionally unweeded, allowing an abundance of milkweed to flourish.

One of the neighbors had complained, having the nerve to knock on the door. "There are regulations in this neighborhood," Agnes Ackram had bellowed at her mother. Bliss watched from the stairs, wondering how her mother would handle this one. Her mother drew in a deep breath and then proceeded to inform Agnes that monarch butterfly populations were in danger, and she cared more for the planet's pollinators than for well-manicured lawns. Agnes huffed and puffed her way home as Bliss stared out the window trying to make sense of the dilemma. She decided she was glad her mother liked monarchs. Agnes fired up her lawn mower and fumes seemed to spew from both the woman and the machine, but the day had continued, and there were never more complaints.

The garden was also wonderfully overgrown, and Bliss could crawl through thick tunnels of vines, flowers, and leaves. This is what she was doing, following a monarch as it went from flower to flower, stalking it from her hidden vantage point, when it happened. Through an opening in the thicket, she caught sight of movement near the road. Her eyes narrowed as she focused, coming to realize that another monarch was floundering on the ground. Her breath caught, and she scrambled through the briar to get a better look.

Squatting, she watched the butterfly flapping its wings but falling from side to side along the pavement. It didn't look right. One antenna was twisted, and the butterfly seemed confused. She held her hand beside it, knowing butterflies can't be handled too much, but hoping it would crawl onto her. She also felt afraid because this was one big butterfly, and she wasn't sure if they could bite or not! For a moment it grew still, and she thought it had died, but then it stumbled again, wings panicked and legs twitching. "Mama!!" she called.

Her mother was quickly at her side, and they shared concerned looks as they watched it flail around. "It must have gotten hit by a car or something," her mother guessed. Bliss watched as her mother gently held out her finger, softly cooing to the creature, assuring it that they were indeed its friends and trying to help it. The butterfly seemed to understand and crawled gingerly onto her mother's finger. Bliss gasped at her mother's bravery. Could they bite or sting? No, her mother promised, butterflies are friendly but delicate.

They all three sat on the steps for quite some time. Her mother puzzled aloud at the butterfly's fate. Was it dying? It did seem injured and disoriented. Had a car hit it? The wind hurt it? Was it tired? There were many questions, but what struck Bliss most was that the butterfly seemed calm and comforted. A few times she summoned enough courage to let it crawl onto her hand, but she quickly asked her mother to take it back again.

She had learned about monarchs in kindergarten when her teacher brought in several chrysalises. The class eagerly watched with curiosity and delight as one by one the chrysalises shivered and broke open, revealing brilliant butterflies with wings that needed air to dry. Eventually, the class released them, cheering as each one took flight. Her teacher had taught them that if a monarch has small dots on the bottom of its wings, then it is a male, but if there were no dots, then it was a female. This one was a male. She named him Dewdrop.

It seemed to Bliss that her mother and Dewdrop had fallen in love. And for some reason her mom's eyes sometimes filled with tears. They settled onto the front porch lawn chairs, reclined in the sunshine, and marveled at their new companion. Several times her mother tried to get Dewdrop to crawl onto a milkweed plant, but he stubbornly stuck the sticky points at the ends of his legs into her skin and clung to her. So, the three of them sat together for the entire afternoon. It was a rare indulgent lazy day, and they had spent the hours talking about everything under the sun, laughing, and pondering life together.

Bliss drew in a labored, slow, deep breath. That late summer afternoon with Dewdrop seemed so far away, and yet somehow she could slip into her seven-year-old self again and relive it as clearly as when it first happened. This was one of her favorite memories, and she frequently slipped into it, leaving the room for awhile. But for now, she was crystal clear and aware of the present.

The room was not unpleasant. When she was present, she took great comfort in the warm, soft blankets, her bed piled high with covers and pillows, like a giant nest. The room was full of flickering candles, the air thick with incense. She had grown up with that very brand of incense often wafting through the household. It was her mother's favorite. No, the room was not unpleasant at all.

She thought about the long road from that moment with Dewdrop to finding herself lying here now. It seemed as though lifetimes had come and gone. She had been born at a pivotal time, when humanity was finally owning up to its destructive tendencies. Times had seemed so uncertain then. People still fought over lands, religion, and even from petty judgements of being better than one another for a whole host of silly reasons.

That had changed when they were all forced to work together. The Great Comet of 2043 had seen to that! She grinned as she remembered how terrifyingly life altering that event had been. The world's super powers had been forced to join together in order to keep the planet from being hit by an asteroid thirteen miles wide. It would have destroyed the planet, they said. It took such a massive effort that all regular activities had drawn to a halt. People across the planet stopped and prayed, hugged each other, and practically held their collective breath as scientists intercepted the massive wad of metal and ice, painting it with a reflective surface that changed its trajectory by altering the effect of the sun on its surface. It had taken such vast collective resources and a nearly impossible level of collaboration that everything changed after that. Sure, there were still hateful people, but things were different now. In some ways it was a subtle shift, but drastic and good changes began to finally happen afterward.

She drew in another breath, noticing that the air seemed thin. For a moment she once again felt the collective breath of that fateful moment for humanity. It was as though the entire planet sighed with relief! She felt her body tense and then release. Looking down at her aged hand, she was surprised to see the small hand of her great-grandchild inside her own. She hadn't realized someone sat at her side. A smile lit her face, bringing a flash of light to her eyes, and she gently squeezed the hand. Amber, named after her great-great-grandmother, grinned up at her, and for a moment it seemed that Bliss caught sight of her mother's face in Amber's. A hot tear streamed down Bliss' cheek as her heart swelled with love.

Life just seemed so beautiful to her these days. And now, she was again thinking of her mother's tear-filled eyes, all those years ago with Dewdrop. She could see her again. Sunlight streaming onto her face, her mother had held the butterfly at her heart, smiling and closing her eyes as if in prayer. Maybe she had been praying, Bliss thought. Going back, yet again, to the ancient memory, it seemed that Bliss could shift her perspective. She could be her seven-year-old self. Or, she was surprised to find, she could be her mother. As her mother, she could feel love pouring from her heart to the butterfly, and there was also an interesting mixture of sadness for her father's (Bliss' grandfather) death--but he had died a month later! And even more intriguing, she could also slip into the perspective of Dewdrop! She felt the grainy powder of her wings, and waves of gratitude for being helped from the dangerous street. As Dewdrop, she wanted to take in the solace of her mother's salty hand, and deeply rested her wings for what felt like ages. And then she became the vibrant, wild plants in the garden! And then even the rays of sunlight!

This game enticed her. She played with her newfound freedom, shifting from tree, to grass, to the neighbor's dog, to the sky, and back into her seven-year-old self. And there was a song! What was that singing? It was soft and low at first, then joined by voices of higher pitch and then more low-pitched voices deepening and expanding the melody. Was this a dream?! And with that thought, her eyes popped open, and she blinked as she took in the scene. All her family was there. Her beautiful daughters--they were nearest, the three of them flanking her sides and feet. Her grown grandchildren were at their mothers' sides, and the small great-grandchildren were there as well.

They were singing and humming. Swaying and smiling. Some had tears gently flowing. One by one, they each bent and whispered to her the most magical words: "I'll see you soon, grandma." "You will soar on the wings of your butterfly, now." "I love you so much." "Thank you." "Let our song carry you across the stars!" Each word carried with it a colored light that flowed to her and soaked into her skin. She was not afraid. Not alarmed. Not alone. Just simply mystified.

Her mind was clear, and she thought of how she had planned to have her body taken to a special facility after death. It was the urban death garden, where bodies went through an accelerated decomposition process in order to become soil that was then distributed to family members. She grinned as she imagined nourishing a hearty milkweed plant. She remembered visiting the facility and sitting in the community milkweed garden, gazing at butterflies landing here and there, and she knew then with certainty that this new way of dealing with death was good. She had sat in the sunlight watching butterflies one last time for an entire afternoon. The more recent memory warmed her body and widened her grin. And with that, she was off again, traveling up the thick stem of a milkweed. She was pulsing fluid flowing through the veins of the mighty plant. How divine it felt! She could feel the sun calling to her, and it blended with the melodies of her loved ones.

Her heartbeat joined the refrain. The wind stirred gently and carried her into flight. Somewhere a crow cawed, the sound announcing the sacredness of the moment. Brilliant light flashed, and she was an iridescent hummingbird drinking in nectar. And then the river down the hill called her name. She floated above the river, astonished to see people walking along the river trail with their dogs and children. The river whispered secrets, and she laughed aloud.

As she opened her eyes, she caught sight of her mother standing in the corner of the room. "Mama!" she exclaimed. Her mother looked younger than when she had last seen her, all those years ago when she had accompanied her through her own death. Now, she looked as she did that day with Dewdrop, and she smiled with a golden light that Bliss could actually taste! It was like honey. No, more like honeysuckle! Her mother winked, grinning that oh-so-familiar impish grin, and beckoned to her with a quick toss of her head.

With that, there was suddenly a doorway. Bliss found herself at her mother's side. She glanced back, seeing her tired body lying in the bed, surrounded by so many loved ones. She could see that her body still took in shallow breaths. She was not afraid; she had been well-prepared for this. Everyone now understood that death marked the beginning of another amazing journey. Additionally, everyone knew that the task of the living was to facilitate the journey of the dying. This was something that had resurfaced within the culture, an ancient knowing that returned at that pivotal time when all of humanity had faced mortality at the same collective moment. The Great Comet had brought the return of conscious acknowledgment of the sacred bond between Life and Death. The song of her loved ones yet again filled her ears. "Take heart, and be bold! Jump across the Great Divide! Go to where our Ancestors dwell. Go to where we'll find you again. Go! Go! Go!"

She grinned and turned to the doorway. Beyond the threshold, she could see an infinite starscape. She thought she heard her long-deceased grandfather, Papa, call her to come for dinner, and then she saw his smiling face. His face morphed into the butterfly her mother had held to her heart. And then it was as though she could feel all the drumbeats on the planet coursing through her veins. She could see the animals, the plants, the rivers, and the people. She was a lioness chasing a gazelle. A whale deep in the ocean. A vulture soaring in circles. She saw a litter of mice drinking milk from their mother. Ferns unfurling in a rainforest. Rocks tumbling down a mountainside. The pain of loss and longing ran through her, but it did not catch on anything and simply flowed through her. Quickly, that was followed with a run-through of every possible emotion. And then again she was witnessing scenes of mother animals of all kinds giving birth, and millions simultaneously dying across the planet.

Again, the song of her loved ones filled her being. "Take heart, and be bold! Jump across the Great Divide! Go to where our Ancestors dwell. Go to where we'll find you again. Go! Go! Go!" Their voices filled her as though she were an empty vase, poured to the brim with warm liquid. Again, she tasted honeysuckle. Again, she looked at her mother, who beamed back at her. Oh, how wonderful to be with Mama again!

Her mother took her hand, and together, they leapt across the Great Divide.

Author Bio

Amber Balk lives on the west coast and spent several years volunteering for FMBR while attending graduate school at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. Some of her fondest Bay Area memories are of sitting with FMBR co-founder Bill Gough and chatting about everything under (and beyond) the sun. Amber holds a MA in Women's Spirituality and a Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology. She works as an independent transpersonal consultant, specializing in dreamwork, astrology, community action projects, and alternative approaches to death & dying. She may be contacted at: dr.amberbalk{AT}gmail.com .