Prologue

breathless

I have always loved butterflies. Something about the way they seem to hang on drafts of air, featherlight, the iridescent greens and yellows and blues of their wings catching the rays of the sun, catches at my heart. A butterfly flitting across my path or alighting on something nearby is a reminder to me to stop, to breathe deep, to live. To embrace joy, and be the deepest version of myself. One summer when I was straddling the line between childhood and adulthood, my Carolina hometown was overrun with tiny green and white butterflies. They fluttered everywhere, gems against the rich blue of the August sky. They were so abundant that it was hard, driving down the freeway, to avoid catching one on your windshield now and then.

“I hate to see them dashed against the glass,” I told my mother one afternoon as I swerved to miss a small white shape. “It makes me feel sick.”

“Don’t feel too bad,” she answered. “They only live for two weeks, anyway.”

That conversation has stayed with me. I think about it, sometimes, as I watch a butterfly pass me, or delicately fan its wings as it sips from a flower. In a human lifespan, two weeks is infinitesimal, hardly a blink on the landscape of a decades-long existence. It is so short as to almost be meaningless, lost in the longer lives of larger creatures.

And yet in its small life, the butterfly brings such beauty.

This is a principle I try to remember.

At six months old, I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a life-shortening genetic illness that affects many organs in the body, causing frequent and serious lung infections, sinus infections, malabsorption, and a host of other issues. Halfway through high school, I battled a year-long case of mono that left me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. My life is one that is lived in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals; I have both my nurse and my pharmacist on speed dial. I spend hours each day doing treatments and therapies to help keep my lungs clear of infection. Each morning, I swallow more pills than my 82-year-old grandmother with Leukemia. Each day is a delicate balancing act, a struggle to accomplish what I need to without overusing the limited reserves of energy that I possess.

I am breathless on a daily basis. But, as a friend once reminded me, “breathless” is also the word that we so often use to describe moments where we are awed by beauty, or bathed in heart-stopping joy.

And this life of mine is both of these things. The days of frustration, of feeling overwhelmed and betrayed by my own body, are balanced with moments of deep, pure delight. I have learned to find the beauty in a small life, as well as a grand one. I have learned to break new ground, to blaze new trails when the old ones become impassable. I have learned to savor the moments that come my way.

I have learned that sometimes, the only requirement for happiness is a single choice.

This is my story. In this space, I hope to share my own evolution, the ways I have come to accept the circumstances of my life and find great contentment within them.

Because what I continually come back to is this: In my reckoning, two weeks is nowhere near enough time for anything to be accomplished or gain meaning.

And yet, each time I see a butterfly, I am reminded of just how precious each life—no matter how small—can be.