“We become so consumed with chasing the butterflies of ephemera that we forget to stop, sit and focus on the eternal.”
– Tim Shead
Mr. Google having been less than helpful, I’m not exactly sure just who Tim Shead is — an Olympic swimmer, perhaps? — but I certainly love his quote, with its clear distinction between ephemera and the essential. But there’s ephemera and ephemera—
Our world contains a multitude of “natural” ephemera, the real deals, cherry blossoms, sunsets, childhood. One purpose of ephemeral things, according to Japanese aesthetics, is to heighten our appreciation of phenomena. When cherry blossoms, so beautiful! are also so vulnerable to the slightest breeze, we must, if we are to enjoy them at all, enjoy them right now.
In recent years, though, our lives have thickened by an additional gaudy, tawdry layer of ephemera: Facebook, Tweets, texting, the latest sensational headlines that vanish by sunrise. Many, maybe most? of us lead driven lives, no time to pause and reflect, no time to savor, no time to rest and refresh. Perhaps most significant for the future of our selves and our world: no time to sort out what’s really important from what doesn’t matter. A butterfly existence, always flitting.
I suppose that metaphor is fueled by a myth that butterflies live the briefest of lives. Well, yes and no. Some species live only a week or two, others exist for a year, in butterfly terms, a good old age. I’m fascinated by butterflies, most specifically by the fact that although every language (obviously) has a word for butterfly, these words aren’t cognate in any major language group. They’re each totally different: butterfly, papillon, mariposa, farfalla, schmetterling, babochka, psyche, cio-cio-san, on and on. Highly individual perceptions from one place or region or language group to another.
What is eternal then? The concept, butterfly. The Platonic butterfly. Your butterfly, my butterfly, your eye, my eye. To guard the integrity of the individual, to develop our own self, our own ephemeral self (for we too will die, albeit probably not in two weeks), takes time. So, ironically, the next time you see an ephemeral butterfly, maybe it can be a reminder to take time, to stop, to sit, and to focus on the eternal.