“I can truly say I had rather be at home at Mount Vernon with a friend or two about me, than to be attended at the Seat of Government.” George Washington
For the past year and a half, my girls and I have been studying American History. It has been an introduction for all three of us, because I managed to make it 36 years on this earth without ever really knowing the birth story of our nation.
In our study, no other man has captivated my heart and mind like that of George Washington. I confess to have developed a strange “crush” of sorts when I read of his courage in battle and his humility in office.
But, in all that we took in about the life of this great man, my favorite stories had to do with his quiet, contemplative farm life on the grounds of his beloved Mt. Vernon estate. Whether as a general in the thick of war or as an elected official presiding over a new nation, he often found comfort day dreaming about sitting with Martha in the evenings on the veranda overlooking the Potomac River. To him, home was a feeling; a state of being. At Mt Vernon, fellowship, acceptance, work, and rest were always present and always plentiful.
Over the semester, I began to dream about visiting Mt. Vernon for myself one day because I had grown to love the idea of it as much as he had. I never thought I would get the opportunity but desperately longed to walk the same paths he walked and feel the same solace that he felt among those trees and hills.
On September 30, 2011, a glorious fall day, my girls and I pulled up to his home right outside of Alexandria. We were visiting my sister who lives in Washington, DC and had invited us up to see Les Misrables at the Kennedy center. So, having a place to stay, I planned a four-day trip, which included a day trip to Mount Vernon.
It was a wonderful day that felt like a tonic to my weary soul.
I had come heavy-hearted because our community had just buried a dear friend a few weeks prior, who died from a brain tumor. I knew that I would be channeling Sydney when I stood before a Van Gogh at the National Gallery of Art the next day.
But, late that afternoon while taking pictures in George Washington’s garden, a very LARGE, orange Monarch(which is her symbol to me) fluttered by me. I nearly went CRAZY. It was late in the season to have such a sighting, particularly so far north.
My girls, bless them were SO tired and had parked themselves on a bench outside the garden. I told them about the Sydney butterfly and begged for just a few more minutes.
“Go,” they said wearily but very happy for me. “Go and chase butterflies.”
I took a deep breath, prayed, and hoped to be able to find it once again. Quietly, I followed it to a patch of purple, spindly flowers. I stood very still watching the butterfly, and could not have been happier or felt more alive.
Unbeknownst to me, two women had stopped behind me to watch the moment unfold. The monarch finally opened up its wings and the onlookers heard my shutter click.
“Oh, you got it, didn’t you?!” they asked, excitedly.
Startled, I turned around with tears in my eyes.
“I did,” I said. “But she’s still gone.”
They were puzzled, and I explained to them why I was chasing butterflies.
“Bless you,” they said. “And bless your sweet friend.”
I am remembering this story because a year today(December 23,2010), I sat with Sydney in her bedroom. She was in a hospital bed because her tumor was reeking havoc and had rendered her unable to walk. We were all very worried about her recent decline.
Sitting there, I did not know that in a seven months, she would leave us. Forever.
I did not know that the photograph I had framed for her that day as a reminder of how I would always see her would become an image to us all in our remembering.(They were released at her graveside the day of her funeral.)
And that wherever I would go in the future, it could always become a sacred opportunity to be surprised by chasing butterflies.
The Slave Memorial Garden