My yearly mammogram was magical.
Sounds crazy, I know. How could a procedure most women dread more than, well—almost anything—be the high point of my week? It was all because of Heidi.
She was chatting away in a valiant effort to distract me from the ridiculous process of mashing each breast between two plastic plates in order to record a digital image. Pushing the gown from my left shoulder, she caught sight of my butterfly tattoo.
After a bit of oohhing and aaahhing, she asked what butterflies meant to me. As I stumbled through a lame reply, I realized I hadn’t thought about it in the 10 or so years since I’d walked into a tattoo parlor in South Beach with a sketch in my pocket.
Heidi listened as she angled my arm and shoulder into a position that only a contortionist might find comfortable. Then she said, “I love butterflies,” and pointed to a pretty enamel brooch pinned to her smock. “I wear one every day.”
I asked what the significance was for her. And that’s when the magic began. She said that her young son died several years ago, and on the morning of the funeral she went out to sit in her garden. Minutes later a single blue butterfly landed on her arm. “I’d never seen a blue one before,” she said. “I sat really still, hoping it would stay. But it flew off as suddenly as it had arrived.” Wearing the butterfly jewelry reminds her that life is a continuous transformation. “Things are always changing. We must appreciate the beauty and wonder of each moment, because it won't last.”
Rubbing the goosebumps on my arms, I thanked her for sharing her story. But later, as I dressed to leave, it struck me that her biggest gift was inviting me to share mine. I’d gotten my tattoo at a time when, after years of unhappiness, I was slowly breaking free from the conventions I'd let define me. I took more risks. Lived with a sense of abandon. And experimented with new forms of self-expression—from dying my hair red to competing in a triathlon.
So the butterfly symbolizes my metamorphosis from a good girl who always did what was expected to a woman who was far less predictable. And like the butterfly that suddenly appeared in Heidi’s garden, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that she showed up just now to remind me.