On not squishing butterflies

I loved today's installment at Letters of Note. A 9-year-old boy named Anthony Hollander wrote a letter in 1973 to Blue Peter, BBC's beloved children's show, about how he thought he had figured out how to make "people or animals alive."  He just needed a few items (including a model of the heart split in half, a diagram of how "evreything" works (inside youre body)," and tools for cutting people open!).

Letter via BBC

The thing is, the Blue Peter show didn't scoff or mock him. They were intrigued and supportive: "we are sorry we can't help you at all, but we wondered if you had thought of talking to your family doctor - he might be glad to help you with some diagrams and other information." 

And here's the kicker: Anthony really did grow up to do wonderful things with medicine and biology, including the successful implantation of an artifically-grown windpipe. On Letters of Note, Anthony's quoted as saying "If [Biddy Baxter's] letter had shown any hint of ridicule or disbelief I might perhaps never have trained to become the medical scientist or been driven to achieve the impossible dream and really make a difference to a human being's life. I remember being thrilled at the time to be taken seriously."  (Go to Letters of Note for the full transcript of both letters.)

. . .

At our house, we call this not squishing someone's butterfly. I can't remember if this actually happened (but I suspect it might have) or if it started as an analogy. But imagine finding an exquisite butterfly on your shoulder. You carefully transfer it to your hands and of course you want to show it to someone.  You carefully bring it and, full of wonder, open your hands to share the delight. 

And the person takes one look, lifts her hand and smashes the butterfly into bits right there in your palm.

It's become the shorthand with my kids for the occasional temptation to take someone's joke/idea/observation/story and mock it, crush it, smash it until it lies in pieces in their hands. I cringe to think of the metaphorical butterflies I crushed as the oldest sister in our family, for instance.

Actually, I cringe whenever I come across it. In the book of crimes against human-ness squishing butterflies is right there on the page between killing mockingbirds and wearing tattle tails. It's all about squelching hope and wonder and creativity.  All good things.

End of editorial. But (now where was I?) good for Blue Peter for preserving that particular butterfly. Well done.