Have you ever been in a “no-win-situation?” I mean a moment, a phase in your life, a moment of a lifespan, a situation when you know you are not going to come out of it a winner, caught in a predicament. I am in that situation right now. I am standing on the wooden platform, with the crowd surrounding it and chanting and cheering for the action that is about to ensue. I see the rage in their eyes. I feel the outrage on their angry faces. I witness their lust for my death. Then I see my family standing around, my mother weeping and begging, my father quietly crying and wiping the tears off his face, my sister in a hysterical state, but many strangers cheering for my ultimate destiny.
No, you have not, because if you had ever experienced this predicament, you would not be here sharing this story with me.
It all began when I was a little boy, always crazy about bugs and often in pursuit of the most beautiful of all the bugs, the butterfly, the mighty Monarch butterfly — a species that ultimately determined my fate and destiny.
When I was a little boy, I always loved and adored butterflies, especially the Monarch. I was fascinated by them. They fascinated me. I loved them and worshiped their beauty, their elegance and their majestic looks.
We lived in a medium sized house, which was filled with trees and flowers. In the spring and the summer seasons, we would receive a score of these butterflies, which would come to our house. Where from? I have no clue, but they were always around. I would chase them and hunt them. I was not successful in the beginning because butterflies, especially the Monarchs, are fast and sneaky as if they have two large eyes on their wings. Maybe those two spots that are on their wings are eyes. But after sometime, I became very good at catching them.
My skill was honed after some intense practicing, which also included falling off the tree once or landing on my butt in the middle of the rose bushes. I never killed them. I would carefully hunt them — by gently grabbing the top of their wings — and after some cohabitation, I would release them. I stared at them and just got a jolt of joy, love and peace at watching them. This would give me a surge of livelihood and inject me with love and happiness. I would go into a trance. I would feel high and drunk. It was like a potion of rebirth injected into my veins. It was like resurrection of a sort.
During the spring, and particularly during the summertime, this was my hobby and the way of getting high. Whenever we were in a picnic, I was running through the bushes and around the trees, chasing my beloved pals. My life basically orbited around chasing and hunting butterflies. I never harmed them. I always handled them gingerly and carefully and after observing, studying, and sometimes sniffing them, I released them back in the open air. I loved to watch them regaining their freedom and flipping their wings and fly away. It was always like a lasting memory on my mind to see the free butterflies fly away.
I read every book about butterflies, despite such writings being so scarce and hard to obtain. But I checked all the libraries and gathered much written research and studies on them. I never felt that I could have enough of this beautiful species. Everyone was aware of my passion for butterflies. When my uncle traveled to Europe, he brought me four Monarch butterflies that were dead and masterfully dried for collection; two blue, one yellow and one red. I remember I could not sleep that night. I went back to my desk and observed them as often as I could all through the night.
The next morning, my mother and I went to the local carpentry shop and bought a cubic, wooden frame with a glass covering. I mounted the four butterflies on the wall and placed them under the wooden/glass frame. You could easily see them through the glass. The carpenter had done a great job. I walked back and forth several dozens times a day and watched them. I enjoyed looking at them, but regretted that they were dead. One day, I came home from school and found them to be gone. I found a trace of ants going from the box to an ants hole. The last piece of the butterflies was being hulled away by the ants.
That summer, my father decided to take us on a vacation trip to Araak to see his friend and spend some time with his family. We spent one week there. We had a great time. One night, my father‚s friend‚s son and I were playing, when we noticed a large, blue Monarch butterfly entering the vicinity of the yard, searching for light. I immediately ran after it and after some struggle caught it. The other boy ran and grabbed a pin from his desk drawer. He snatched the butterfly out of my hand, flattened the butterfly on the wall of the room and, after handing me the pin, instructed me to stick the pin into its head to mount it on the wall.
“Pin it, pin it I said,” he yelled at me.
“I cannot do it. I cannot kill,” I cried.
He shouted again, “I said, pin it. Put the pin through its head and he will be mounted on the wall.” I could not do it. I could not kill my friends. I replied no and upon his insistence to carry on the mission, I began to cry. I could not do it. He got angry and rumbled. He threw the butterfly to the ground and trampled it under his feet. He scolded me severely for being a coward and struck me on the back of my head. It hurt. I was not a coward. I just did not want to kill an innocent being. I cried.
Time passed and I reached my senior year in high school. After graduation, I tried to enter the university, but since my grades were not too high, I was flatly rejected. A few weeks after graduation, a police officer on a mopped stopped by our house and gave me the official notice from the armed forces that I had been drafted since I had turned 18 and had failed to enter college. Now I had to do my mandatory two years service. I was frightened. I did not want to go to the army. Military life was against my nature. I had many plans for my life. But that seemed to be my destiny, and it was.
A few months later, I was drafted to go to the army base and serve my two years. At first, it was hard. But soon I got acquainted with my surroundings, made many friends and life became more tolerable. Six month into my service, a war broke out between my country and the neighboring one. Scores of young men were shipped to the front and I was one of them. We were in the middle of the desert fighting the heat, sandstorms and many other hardships. I witnessed many of my comrades fell. I worked as an assistant in the hospital since I had some knowledge of medicine.
One day, we were raided deep into our territory. Many soldiers fell, from both sides. They handed me a rifle and told me to guard the vicinity of the base. I knew how to handle a gun, but was not so sure how to kill. Shortly after, a cloud swirled towards us and inside of it we saw a large group of the enemy soldiers. They spread around our compound but we were prepared. We scattered in the bunkers that we had built. My sergeant ordered me to follow him as each two soldiers were forming a pair and running into a different bunker.
We reached our bunker in the right side of the compound and jumped in it under a barrage of bullets shooting at us. The sergeant was shooting his pistol indiscriminately, but my rifle was still cold. I aimed it several times, but had not found a target to shoot. I was dead determined to protect my fellow comrades, our turf, and our land. As we entered the bunker, I noticed an injured enemy soldier lying in the bottom of the bunker. He was shot. He was drowning in a pool of blood and badly hurt.
My commander was shooting and knocking down the enemies. He was displaying remarkably great expertise and a knack for military actions and killing. He yelled at me, “Cut him down, shoot him, kill him.” He was shouting. I was shivering with anxiety and repulsion. I could not kill an innocent man. That is true that he was an enemy, but he was also a human after all.
I shouted back, “I cannot do it. I cannot kill.”
So suddenly, I saw a blue Monarch butterfly floating before my eyes. It floated and gingerly vanished in the dust arisen by all the bullets.
The sergeant walked towards me and pistol-whipped me hard. I fell on the ground of the bunker that was covered with gravel. I felt a great pain in my neck and back. I lifted my head and saw he was putting his gun to the enemy‚s temple, and then he pulled the trigger. His head exploded and blood squirted on the walls of the bunker. I felt sadness in my heart. I felt pain in my neck. I felt the sergeant‚s foot on my back and heard the click of the handcuffs on my wrist. “You are under arrest for treason, lack of bravery and endangerment of your fellow comrades. Get up, coward, bastard.”
After my return to the base, they jailed me pending a military trial. In my cell, I spent many lonely days and nights. I was spit on by other soldiers. I was cursed and taunted. I was called names. They finally “tried” me — a matter of formality. Everyone knew the outcome of the trial; guilty. And that is the reason that I am here today, standing on the wide, wooden platform, under the hanging rope to be executed.
A large crowd has gathered since the early hours of the morning. Families from far distances have assembled a large picnic atmosphere. Some have even brought their lunches, soccer balls, radio-cassettes and even toys for their kids to play with and be entertained — to watch a man die. It is high noon and the clergyman is reading words from the holy book. Scores of people are sitting on the lawn, eating, conversing and impatiently waiting for the start of the festivity; a man to be hung.
The commander ordered the executioner to put the rope around my neck. It feels tight. I can see a designated section where the parents of those killed in the war are sitting, staring at me and cursing me every chance they get. The surface of the wooden platform is almost covered with spit. They are cursing me for being a coward and the enemy of the state. My crime is deserting my army, my nation.
But my actual “crime” is loving and caring for life, loving others.
That night in Araak, I realized that life was not always designed to be lived the way it should be. I realized that you have to live and let live. I learned that life should be a full freedom, liberty and justice for all. I realized that I have to live free and die free. I learned that I could not take a life, no matter whose life. I could not kill another man even if he was the “enemy.” What was his fault? He was like me, a weapon, a tool, an instrument utilized by his totalitarian government like mine to prolong the existence of the leader, the system. He was only considered my enemy because he was born several miles on the other side of the borders, “the other land?” “The other land,” a piece of land that until centuries ago was shared by our ancestors, but today is demarcated by barbwires to designate the “differences” in races and cultures. No, I could not kill him. No, I did not kill him, just like I did not kill the butterfly. The injured soldier was my brother on the other side of the borders.
It was the moment of my execution — the moment that many had been anticipating and waiting for, to see a man‚s neck snap like a twig. I looked at my family for the last time. They were crying. My mother was sobbing and begging for mercy.
In front of me, on top of the roof, I saw a large, blue, Monarch butterfly floating.
That was he. He flew closer and sat on the tip of the hanging lumber above me as he was trying to comfort me. His wings were flapping as he was cheering me and to thank me. It was as if he was staring at me with his two eyes on his wings. The man motioned the executioner to pull the rope. The little door beneath me opened. I began free falling, dying on my feet as a caring and free man.
How precious liberated life is. How honorable it is to die free and on your feet than on your knees, for the life of a butterfly.