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Butterflies and What They Mean to Me

2018-2019 Rising Voices Fellow Lila Zinner's sneaker, which has butterflies on it. 

Butterflies are everything I want to be and more. I look to butterflies for guidance and direction. These creatures appear in my life a lot. They decorate the walls of my bedroom, the sides of my Nike Air Force Ones, my phone case, and my jewelry. I love butterflies because, to me, butterflies represent freedom and bliss.

This year of my life was the first time I felt truly trapped. I felt trapped inside the institution of school and the ways in which it repressed my creativity. My worth was amounted to mere numbers: grades and GPAs and SAT scores. I knew that my mind was far too complex and powerful to be judged in this way, yet I struggled with finding ways to express myself.

I also felt trapped in my own mind by anxiety. My anxiety manifests itself in various ways, one of the most prominent being persistent delusional thoughts. These thoughts mainly result in intense frustration and distrust—frustration because you feel stupid for even believing such outlandish ideas, and distrust because you begin to ponder if the ideas are rooted in some sort of distorted truth. For example, if a friend of mine didn’t text me back, I would almost immediately assume they were angry or that I did something to cause it. There was no proof of this and there are many other reasons someone wouldn’t answer a text, but I still believed there was a problem. The consequences of this way of thinking went far beyond arbitrary texts, because I was constantly battling with myself and my mind to find reality.

During this time, I kept the phrase, “free your mind,” close to my heart. I first heard it in Lauryn Hill’s I Gotta Find Peace of Mind and it has stuck with me ever since. This past year whenever I felt especially trapped or worn down, I employed this phrase to push me through. I doodled it on all my notebook pages and traced it on the white floor tiles with my restless feet.

But even more so, I didn’t want to let the things causing these feelings get the best of me. I couldn’t let them win. In the TV show The Handmaid’s Tale, the main character Offred discovers the phrase “Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum” scratched into her closet, presumably by the previous Handmaid in her exact position. The Latin phrase roughly translates to “don’t let the bastards grind you down.” This embodies my goal to combat the various forces pushing me inwards rather than outwards. Somewhere along the way, butterflies began to symbolize this goal for me.

As any kindergartener could tell you, metamorphosis is the process by which an egg becomes a butterfly. The eggs become caterpillars, which then become butterflies after the chrysalis stage. Caterpillars can’t leave the ground, but butterflies soar through the air in any way they please. Butterflies are bright, colorful, and mystical. They float through the sky. They are free.

For me, the big takeaway from the metamorphosis process is the idea of constant growth. Constant growth is my goal. To be stagnant is to be useless; to be stagnant is to have let the forces win, to let “the bastards grind you down.”

Constant growth is how I reach fulfillment. I place butterflies in every corner of my life so I can be reminded of my continuous journey to expand my mind. I walk around the halls of my school wearing white sneakers with pink butterflies flying off the sides. They remind me of my value, even in a place like school, where my value isn’t acknowledged. The butterflies on the walls of my room remind me that I am my own person. They remind me that I will always have a safe space to grow and express myself.

Every day, I strive to find my butterfly. I express my creativity. I think new thoughts; I use my energy for positive causes; I dance, write, paint, and smile. I am my own butterfly. I am free from everything that wishes I was not free. I am unapologetically liberated.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

1 Comment
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Hello Lila, I just happened to see the as I searched for another artist of long ago. I came upon this article you wrote and was shocked at the timing of me seeing it. I had just finished a video called Butterflies don't sing. It speaks a lot of what you write here. I would be interested for you to see it. It is for any a few more hours on Vimeo, but it also on my website: artbychantzblog.wordpress.com

So please excuse the un-solited comment. I thought it is worth telling you. Stay safe and enjoy your holidays. Chantz

How to cite this page

Zinner, Lila. "Butterflies and What They Mean to Me." 24 June 2019. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 2, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/butterflies-and-what-they-mean-me>.

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