I Ate a Butterfly
By Bobby Neal Winters
Howard Wolowitz is a character on the television sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Howard is over-parented, over-sexed, and in over his head when he applies to be an astronaut on the International Space Station. Before he can go up on the ISS, he has to go through survival training. After undergoing the grueling experience of living on his own in wild, he skypes his girlfriend and is obviously the worse for wear. Trying to be stoic, he speaks to her of the rigors of the training and the discomfort he’s had to endure. Then he utters a non sequitur.
“I ate a butterfly,” he says. “It was so small and so beautiful, but I was so hungry.”
In spite of his appearing to be totally unsuited to any sort of adventure, he has been pushed to his limit and has found his strong core that does not want to die. There is a fiber within him that will not break. It wants to achieve its goal.
It wants to live.
It has been written that nature is red in tooth and claw. I don’t purely adhere to that; there is much else. However, it does point to what might be termed as the great competition of life. Carnivore eat herbivores; herbivores eat plants. Plants vie with other plants for their share of sunlight and water. Species compete with other species within a particular niche. Within species, individuals compete with other individuals. Life itself is the impetus. Without this competition, there is death--or maybe not even death.
Maybe there is nothing.
But in addition to the competition there is altruism.
Much has been written of altruism and I have no need to reproduce it here. Individuals can sacrifice for the sake of the group. We are in general for it. Our sacred texts, myths, literature, movies, and songs are full of stories in which an individual gave his very life for the same of the group. We honor this in every aspect of our culture from Jimmy Dean singing “Big John” to Good Friday services at church.
But it can be taken to an extreme. One heroic individual walking out into the blizzard to that the rest may have enough provisions to make it until help arrives is heroic. The sacrifice of three hundred can save western civilization. Everyone doing it is just stupid. It’s like O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” without the implied sex at the end.
But the stories of everyone going out into the blizzard just don’t happen. They don’t happen because within us we have a core. There is something that says “I am!” It is the will to live.
It is within us, at least in healthy individuals.
I chose to say “I am” on purpose. In the Greek it is “ego eimi.” It occurs within the Gospel of John for profound theological reasons beyond the scope of the current piece. But that word ego is my real focus.
We don’t like ego. We talk disparagingly of those who have big egos, and often with good reason. Some ego is necessary, however, or we would just lay down and die.
Ego is to a human as patriotism is to a country. It can be overdone, but for continued existence it is absolutely necessary.
I say with no originality at all that it is a matter of balance.
Where do we find the fulcrum for the balance?
Grab Her Bootie and Pinch
A few years back I taught College Algebra. This is a general education course that attracts students with a broad range of preparation. On one hand, there are the students who’ve successfully mastered the material in high school, and on other other hand, there are the students who’ve been exposed to it four times in high school and are now taking it one more time at four times the pace.
In this particular course, there was a young man who sat in the middle of the front row. His face was round, and he sported a baseball cap atop his head. To his credit, the bill was oriented correctly. His upper torso had the shape I’ve learned to associate with young men who are not unacquainted with beer, and he wore t-shirts. One of them was a spoof of the Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirts. It said, “Grab her bootie and pinch.”
I am not very easily shocked, so it didn’t bother me. More importantly it didn’t bother the young women who sat beside him who, by all appearances, seemed to appreciate the sentiment. He was regular in attendance and ultimately received a good grade.
This is not what I remember about him. I remember him because one day I was walking past the Newman Center and saw him in attendance, attired more or less as I’ve described.
My department chair is Catholic, so I related this story to him complete with character description. This caused him to related a story the priest at the Newman Center had told about one of the young men there.
The priest had been warning the young man about premarital sex, and the young man had replied.
“This isn’t premarital sex,” he’d said. “I’m not going to marry any of these girls.”
My chair opined this was probably the same guy. Surely there couldn’t be two.
Regardless, the character is consistent.
I bring him up in this piece because, whether he realizes it or not, the nothing less than the species desire to survive is housed within him and is driving him. Finding the right fulcrum of balance for that desire will be very important to his living a good and happy life. In some manner--either through birth, seeking, or maybe just dating a Catholic girl--he has found a place that teaches a way to find that balance.
The School of Reality
I began with a story about Howard Wolowitz of The Big Bang Theory. His character, not unlike the butterfly he ate, has undergone a metamorphosis. At the beginning of the series, even though he had the technical expertise of an engineer, he was very much ignorant of anything to do with real women. This was in spite of a great curiosity about certain aspects to say the least.
This is being remedied. He is receiving an education in this area, as most men do, from a real woman, his girlfriend, Bernadette.
Tradition has a way setup for this education to take place. The first step is to be born into a home with loving parents from which one can learn the roles of the sexes and how they interact with one another. One is then taught a framework about courtship, marriage, and fidelity. Howard is missing big parts of that framework. His father left the family so he didn’t have a model to follow.
But, regardless, nature has driven him out of himself and to a real woman who is by no means a doormat. This is important. Iron sharpens iron as they say. While a marriage shouldn’t, by any means, be a continual battle neither should one spouse simply be a ditto stamp. That core within Bernadette, that “I am” she has that matches his is helping him to become a full human man as opposed to the mockery of a man that he had been.