How I Came to be a Butterfly
Like a Caterpillar in a Cocoon
I am a firm believer that God has a plan for all of us. We are all put on this earth to perform a certain task. For me, I knew early on that I was destined to become a butterfly.
I was a rather shy child, preferred animal companions to people—still do. During my adolescent years, I wore a back brace to correct my scoliosis; I had metal braces that resembled railroad tracks when I smiled; long, straight hair and bushy eyebrows. Plucking them was too painful, so I decided to whip out my father’s razor. With one swipe, I successfully shaved one of them half off! Needless to say, I was the talk of my class the next day in school. Writing was a great escape from reality. I soon discovered that I could be anyone I chose to be in my imaginary world.
“Right now, you’re like a caterpillar in a cocoon,” my mother used to tell me. “But one day, you’re going to blossom and turn into this beautiful butterfly. You’ll see.”
The Butterfly Effect
My mother was right. In my junior year, I got my back brace off. Next went my braces. Thank goodness, I didn’t feel like Frankenstein’s bride anymore. I learned to pluck my eyebrows and apply makeup correctly. I was now in the last phase of my transformation. I cut all my long hair off, added some blonde highlights, and whisked it away from my face. I started to turn heads for the first time.
The following year, I graduated from high school. It was now time to spread my wings and fly away. I was on the right path, until my father died two months into my freshman year of college. I went back to school a few weeks later and finished out the semester. My biology teacher, Dr. Shoemaker, let me take an incomplete for that term. I hated biology with a passion. To top things off, Doc always wore a suit and tie when he administered exams. He had undertaker written all over his face. Despite his teaching techniques, Doc would go on to make a positive impact on my life. I repeated the class the following semester only to rediscover myself along the way. ‘Bio’ meaning life, and ‘ology’ meaning the study of it. Combine the two together, and you have the study of life. And that’s just what I did. I took a long hard look at my life, and where I was headed. I decided to start living it to its fullest.
That summer, I migrated off to Europe and spent my vacation visiting 19 countries. I purchased my first camera and became a ‘shutter bug.’ While on the Greek island of Poros, I went parasailing. As I fluttered above the waters, it gave me a different perspective on life. I finally knew what it was like to be a butterfly—free, if only for a moment. I had finally found solitude when life wasn’t so peaceful.
After several months, I flew back home. But butterflies don’t stay grounded for long. I took flight once again—this time in a Cessna. I was working on my private pilot’s license. I kept it a secret from my family, especially since I had been dubbed my mother’s ‘wild child.’ I remembered the first time I soloed. I was so scared. But butterflies are fearless, I thought. They just spread their wings and off they go—no hesitation. So, off the runway I sped, wing tipped slightly to the right, then the left, finally stabilizing out. I circled the runway like a butterfly looking for that perfect flower. I came down the final approach, and just missed clearing the tree tops. True butterflies seem to have it down to a science. They land perfectly every time. I was now on my way to ‘earning my wings.’
Butterflies like to taste the nectar from many flowers, so off to the next adventure I flew. I spent the following years finishing up my bachelor’s degree. I decided to combine my love for life, science and writing, graduating with a degree in Biological Writing from Towson University. I was now a stay-at-home mother with a 6-month old son and two stepchildren. As a way to combat boredom and my sanity, I took the initiative to write. I purchased a Brother word processor, and started typing away—one finger at a time. Painstakingly, my first piece was published in fine literary magazine for horse lovers. It was at that moment, I knew that I was destined to become a butterfly. I was meant to soar higher than the rest. I wrote another piece about my childhood camping experiences. Subsequently, it got published, too.
“Write from the heart, and write what you know best,” I remembered one of my English professors telling me.
And so, that’s what I did. I wrote until my heart was content. I discovered an innate passion for writing. I was destined to be a writer from the day I was born. All I had to do was find my true inner beauty.
Five years later, I was still freelancing. I remembered driving by The Gettysburg Times, saying to my husband, “I’m going to write for that newspaper someday.”
“Yeah, right,” he replied.
“I am. You’ll see,” I said confidently.
When my son started kindergarten, I took a part-time position at the newspaper as a correspondent. I got the job based on my portfolio. At the time, I didn’t own a computer. I remember sitting down in my assigned cubicle, starring blankly at the screen wondering where the on-off switch was located.
“Oh, my gosh,” I thought in panic mode.
I had hit a major road block. The only thing I could do was plow right through it. So, that’s what I did. I faked my way through what I didn’t know, and took one day at a time. I thank Pat Nevada, the business editor, for her patience.
“Excuse me, Pat, but this is different from my computer at home,” I’d say every time she’d walk by.
All computers are basically the same. I must have sounded like a total idiot. Poor Pat. I drove her nuts, but being the good person that she is, she never let on.
I can still remember newsroom Editor B.J. Small’s face when he peered over my cubicle and saw a million little pieces of paper cut up all over my desk.
“What in the world,” he said smiling and shaking his head as he walked away.
“I’m just cutting and pasting my story together,” I replied innocently with my glue stick in hand.
Little did I know that the Edit bar on my computer would have accomplished the same task.
“I’m not going to last a week!” I thought.
And I probably wouldn’t have, but for one person in particular—Times Editor John Patrick O’Donnell. Have you ever looked at a butterfly’s wings? They appear perfectly symmetrical; mirror images of one another. John was meant to teach. I was meant to write. One wing complemented the other. John and I were astral twins. Born some 29 years apart, we shared the same birthday—September 4th. John soon became my mentor. He believed in me even when I didn’t. He gave me hope when I had none. He made me smile when I was down. And pushed me to be the very best that I could be.
For someone who didn’t know how to type or write, I went on to take three awards for the newspaper. I was one of eight in the country to win a fellowship from the Foundation for American Communications to Hershey Medical Center. My clips were chosen from a panel of judges, which included editors from Popular Science magazine and The Wall Street Journal.
“I believe that some day she will become one of the premier science writers in the news media,” John wrote in his nominating letter, which landed me the fellowship.
I was also one of 25 in the country to win a traveling fellowship to The California Institute of Technology. I attended the Jack R. Howard Science Reporting Institute for Journalists, thanks to B.J.’s letter of recommendation. Although I was from a small-town newspaper, I sat in the same class room as CNN correspondents and reporters from The Los Angeles Times.
The last year I was with the newspaper, I took an Associated Press award for my investigative reporting on Lyme disease. I shared this honor with other talented coworkers, who also took home awards that year.
Coming Full Circle
I believe that all things come full circle. On that note, my long flight has landed me home once again. Some 10 years later, I find myself writing again—this time, for HubPages. I only wish I had the privilege of working with Johnny O’ one last time. But somehow, I think the ol’ Irishman might have had a hand in it somewhere along the line. Perhaps, it was the lucky gold shamrock I wore around my neck at his wake. John had given it to me years prior.
“I hope it brings you many years of success. And I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors, my dear,” he said, extending a friendly gesture upon giving me the necklace.
And so this is how I came to be a lucky butterfly . . . John helped to make me the person that I am today. It was a privilege to have known him and an honor to have worked with him.
Written in memory of John P. O’Donnell
Sept. 4, 1935 – Jan. 30, 2010