John Lachs, in his most recent Berry Lecture, said "What horrifies is that we may disappear without having made a difference, like the butterfly that hovered over a flower for a minute a thousand years ago."
But here we still are, a thousand years on, talking about that butterfly. Butterflies have their effects (though not always as popularly conceived). Oh, the horror? Or the hope? The latter, surely, for glass-half-full butterfly people who believe even the slightest constructive efforts may ripple down the years in ever-wider waves.
That was my intended insinuation in lasts week's post-lecture reflections Hope for the flowers, a title swiped from the classic graphic allegory of life, revolution, and hope "for adults and others (including caterpillars who can read)" by Trina Paulus.
I once received that book as a parting gift from coworkers at the old independent bookstore (the big one on Hillsboro Pike behind the clocktower that's now a bank). They meant to inspire my own confident hope in tackling the final phase of my formal education, on the way to transmogrifying into a settled academic.
Academia's not everyone's idea of a butterfly haven, but it was then mine. I don't guess I was wrong, as the transformation occurred a few short years later and now here I've lit, tenured and privileged with the opportunity to try and give encouragement and hope to successive waves of students seeking to shuck their own chrysalises.
I've always known John to be of the butterfly tribe, the sort of pragmatic stoic who indulges the hopeful mood and infects others with it. A generous man, in the way of Camus when he said "real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present," John always made his caterpillarish students believe they had an inner butterfly just waiting to burst forth.
That's one of the ways of hope, to breed confidence and embolden growth in timid or tentative souls. Social hope for life's eventual denouement, for the millennial butterflies we'll never know, is like that too. It should breed confidence in our species' long-term prospects, reflected in a growing sense of urgency to give all to the present.
Our highest hope was never entirely for ourselves in a personal sense, but for those on whose metamorphosed good fortune we'd be honored and gratified to have some small effect - whether we lived to see it or not.
6 am/5:57, 73/89/70