Leaving Edisto Island looks like this: first, you drive past the one grocery store and hardware store, then the bookstore and pink building that used to hold a gift shop and the house with the mattress swing in the front yard. After that, you reach the gas station and the barbecue place and a little ways down the road you drive between two white, old, moss laden churches. Right before you drive over what we like to call the big bridge, you pass Geechee Boys where you can pick strawberries in the spring and sit in their big red rocking chair. Once you drive over the big bridge, mostly marshes carry you right on up to the four-way stop in Hollywood, South Carolina.
I’ve been counting all of those landmarks backwards and forwards every summer since second grade, when we first spent a summer week on that slow island. It’s and-then-some now since my parents made a home on the backside of the island. It’s the part where the ocean is really the sound and you can see dolphins just about any old time.
We counted the leaving landmarks on Labor Day. We had rushed down for an afternoon, spend the night, pile in the car, drive back quick type of visit. We were smushed into the van with tires rolling back home. I could smell coconut swirling up from the back and my skin was still a bit greasy, hot and pink-tinged. Everyone was grainy, sandy and moping back toward real life.
I was caught up in that moment–bemoaning falling back into the rush of the everyday–when I noticed the first yellow flip and flutter on the side of the road. We were in the salty, sour, marshy part of the trip and it seemed like just a trick of sunlight on a weedy leaf. I saw it again. The soft and quick beating of tiny yellow wings: sulphur butterflies. I saw another one and another one until I decided I might as well go on ahead and count them.
I was well into the twenties when Tom called me back to the present with a question about school or sports or some other obligation type thing.
“I’ve counted twenty-seven butterflies since we crossed the big bridge,” I answered.
“28.” He jumped right in.
And then we were all together: five people watching every tall, straggle of a bush looking for that drip of God’s yellow paint fluttering up and over. A few were orange. A few were monarchs. Most were the purest, lightest, brightest yellow–straight from a loving Artist’s hands. We counted down backroads all the way up to the edge of the highway, the place where we joined the rest of the world on I-95 and bustled on.
110. We counted one hundred and ten butterflies that day.
Some memories come ready-made, already taking shape against a white screen with blinking letters. Others fight against being shaped and bound with words. This is one of those memories. I’ve wanted to write it down since that day, that moment–already trying to tie it down. This one strained against being turned into a lesson to be tucked away for later.
For one hour on a late summer afternoon, my theology was absolutely my reality. My eyes watched and waited and hoped for something small but beautiful. Every moment we spotted yellow wings on a green background, we rejoiced like crazy. We added up in beautiful awe.
God chose a small and insignificant people to call His very own possession. He chose a small and young man to call the king of His very own people. He chose to reach out to us in the smallest yet greatest of ways: His own Son, wrapped in baby skin, laying in lowly hay.
Who am I not to esteem the small and count it every single time?