avatarJoy DeSomber


Butterflies Can Soar on Tattered Wings, and So Can We

This makes the aging process irrelevant

A butterfly alight on a leaf. Photo credit: author

Butterflies continue to fly, even with torn or broken wings, because no one tells them they can’t.

An unusual sweet 16

My 16th birthday fell on a Saturday. No car with an oversized bow waited in the driveway for me. I would later purchase an elderly vehicle with a mind of its own using the money from my job, but that’s a story for another day.

That night, I was eager to use my newly minted driver’s license, and I was lucky that my birthday fell on a weekend. My parents let me borrow the one car our family had for the evening. I picked up a few of my friends, went out in town, and returned the keys to my parents before I headed to bed.

The following morning, my parents, my brother and I piled into our vehicle, backed out of the driveway, and headed to church. My dad had barely put the car into drive when a horrific rumbling erupted from under our feet. “What happened last night?” My dad asked. My parents turned around in their seats, raised their eyebrows, and leaned towards the backseat.

I cowered, my face reddened. “I don’t think anything happened. The car was fine when I brought it home.”

The noise worsened, and less than a block later, the tailpipe and muffler fell off in the middle of the street. Our heads swiveled to look at the abandoned metal, no longer attached where it belonged.

“You must’ve heard that terrible noise while you were driving,” my dad yelled over the roaring engine as he made a U-turn and headed back toward the house.

“No. I just turned up the radio and couldn’t hear it anymore.”

Mom’s lips were pulled in tight, her eyes slits of glistening fury, and her head shook from side to side.

Stationary back in our driveway, Dad adjusted his girth to face me full-on, with one arm leaning on the steering wheel. “Mufflers don’t just fall off of cars. You’re going to pick up that muffler and tailpipe right now, and then you’ll tell us exactly what happened last night.”

Nervous legs move faster than unagitated ones, and the gray crumpled metal and I returned in a flash. I stumbled through my explanation. “There was this huge snowbank in the parking lot at Kelly’s apartment complex. The snowplows must’ve added to it for over a month. I was trying to pull into a parking spot, and the snowbank jumped out and hit the car. The snow was frozen solid, and it was dark out. I had no idea.”

“It jumped out at you?”


It took longer than planned to buy my car since I had to pay for the repairs on our family’s only vehicle.

Three more decades

When most of my friends turned 21, they hit the bars to celebrate. It meant nothing to me for two reasons. One, I didn’t like the taste of alcohol and had no interest in the party scene but preferred alone time. Second, I lived in Italy, where there was no minimum legal drinking age, so turning 21 was insignificant.

The saying, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” was popularized before the establishment of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s. However, Jack Weinberg, who started the movement, was responsible for coining the phrase in 1964, albeit unintentionally during an interview.

Baby boomers later used the phrase to refer to a lack of trust for elders and only to trust one’s peers. Many people still feel that turning 30 is an unwelcome change.

I spent my 30th birthday throwing a surprise party for my 2nd husband. The timing wasn’t intentional; it just happened that way. My son, Neal, who has a heart of gold and enjoys doing things for others, wanted to do something special for my husband to show him how much we loved and appreciated him.

In my early thirties, I remember feeling old. I’d served in the military, lived overseas, all over the U.S., been married twice, survived incredibly dark days, and was raising my three children alone. At the time, I felt like I was late in the game when I went to grad school.

My 40th birthday, I don’t recall. It fell on a Monday, so I worked. I’m sure my kids did something nice for me. They always have. They’re kind, thoughtful, highly driven individuals who go after what they want and don’t give up. They’ve been through unimaginable challenges in life, and their scars are beautiful.

You can make wings out of anything

My kids are resilient and resourceful. There’s a quote attributed to Ray Bradbury that says,

“Jump off the cliff and learn how to make wings on the way down.”

My kids have sometimes been pushed off that cliff unwillingly. Other times, I’ve pushed them. They’ve shown me over the years how hard they’ve worked to refine their skills in building wings. And my, have they improved.

I see year after year how far they are willing to leap, higher and further each time, learning and growing exponentially. Their personal best gets put in their pocket, and they use it later to build bigger, stronger, better wings than they ever thought possible.

By starting at the bottom, with little more than lint in their pockets, shoelaces available to remove, and twigs nearby, they learned how to build wings just big enough to hold on and lift high enough off the ground to move one more step forward.

Now, I see them soaring at incredible heights, tackling new obstacles all the time that I never could’ve imagined for them.

My 50th birthday is just around the corner. It, too, like my 16th birthday, will fall on a Saturday. I’ve learned a thing or two. I won’t take the family’s only car and let frozen snowbanks knock the muffler off. My children learned from my mistakes. They listened when I said to be stronger than I was.

And as I make my way halfway to a century, my kids remind me we can all take flight. Sometimes, we stumble. Other times, it takes an untold number of tries to get off the ground. And then we jump. We learn how to start building our wings.

Our wings may start out clunky and awkward, but we never stop. We get better; we climb higher; we fight back against the inclement weather. We persevere.

Clouds from a plane window. Photo credit: Quinlynn DeSomber

We climb higher. And higher. And higher still. We soar, and we take our rest upon pillows of clouds.

Wings don’t have to be perfect, and they don’t have to be beautiful. They only have to be aerodynamic. The rest is just icing on the cake.

And I don’t need a birthday cake with candles.

Instead, I’ll look to the skies and watch my adult children soar, and I’ll have to lift my hand to block the sun, which burns far greater than however many candles may alight upon any cake because they’re braver than me, they know how to catch the wind just right, how to bank, how to create lift, and where to glide.

When I hear about milestone birthdays or aging, my kids have made me realize that no matter how many years we breathe within this human shell, the years matter more when we discover what it feels like to reach our highest potential. Standing still on the ground for however many years we have is also an option. It’s just not one I’m interested in.

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