This past Saturday, we went to eat at Waffle House.
I feel like I should explain.
Justin had a rough couple of days at the end of last week. He has a condition called Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome (CVS). And last week he had a flare up.
He was feeling sick when he woke up on Thursday, but nothing that felt that unusual. He has had lots of days where things haven't been perfect, especially when he must get up and go to school. He loves it once he is there, but it can be hard to get him started. I mean. I can totally relate.
We made it to school on Thursday morning but, as we were walking up, he said he felt like he was going to throw up. Looking at him it was obvious he wasn't his best self. So, he and I and Barb headed back to the car. Barb called and got him an appointment at the pediatrician. When we got home, he threw up. He threw up again when we got to the doctor's office.
We got him checked and tested (another negative Covid PCR - Justin has been Covid tested more than any adult I know). Nothing. No discernible reason why he should be feeling so lousy. And since we could rule out another cause, we knew it was a recurrence of his CVS.
CVS is a condition related to migraines. It presents as severe, persistent nausea, extreme lethargy, and sensitivity to light and sound, all which Justin had Thursday. He even had to wear sunglasses at the doctor's office because the lights were so bright. The episodes can last anywhere from an hour to 10 days. And there really isn't anything you can do. Zofram to help with the nausea. Pedialyte to keep him hydrated. Lots of rest. Wait.
Way back at the very beginning of the pandemic (days before the first lockdown), Justin had a similar thing happen. It lasted for 4 or 5 days before he was better.
All day Thursday he was in the "big bed" in mom and dad's room with a puke bucket and a bottle of Pedialyte, watching Nick Jr. He spent Thursday night and most of the day Friday there too. Friday afternoon he started to perk up a bit. He started to talk about the planets again. His color slowly came back. He spent Friday night in his own bed. Saturday morning we woke up and he seemed back to normal.
So, we headed to Waffle House. Where people go to stay healthy.
We sat in our booth and ordered our food and generally had a wonderful time. There was a man in the booth next to us with two kids (a boy and a girl) around 9 or 10. They were having a family meal too. At one point, the dad asked the kids how they were enjoying being in North Carolina.
"I know it has been a while since you have been here," he said. "Do things seem different? Or about the same?" There was a delay of a few moments when finally the girl spoke up.
"Well," she said with an air of finality, "It smells different."
The Cherokee word for butterfly - kamama - is the same as the Cherokee word for elephant.
According to some tribe members, the word is an ancient one, dating back to when butterflies were far more plentiful in Cherokee lands. A word so old, in fact, that it was also used for the wooly mammoths that inhabited the same territory. Others say that the use of kamama for elephant is much more recent. Some say that the Cherokee people didn't know what an elephant was until the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The Cherokee Nation sent a tribal delegation to the fair, and there they encountered elephants for the first time.
Whether you believe the mammoth story or the Exposition story, one element of the story remains the same. The Cherokee, upon seeing the large animals, focused on their ears which look like... a butterfly. And the Cherokee word for butterfly became the Cherokee word for elephants.
There isn't much that connects elephants and butterflies beyond shape. They are very different animals with very different places in the larger ecosystem. They have different life cycles and come from different branches of the animal kingdom. Their size difference alone is stunning.
And yet I find it poetic that the Cherokee have the same word for both.
The most remarkable thing about butterflies is their physical transformation. Justin could tell you all about it. One of his favorite books is the Very Hungry Caterpillar, where the title character eats his way through a week's worth of food before forming a cocoon and emerging a beautiful butterfly.
That transformation is compelling.
Butterflies start as a furry, crawling caterpillar, stuck to the ground and moving deliberately from place to place. Then they withdraw into a cocoon that they make. Their own special home for change. Then they fight and wriggle and struggle free from the restraints they created for themselves and in that struggle create the conditions that they need to fly. Literally. Fly.
I know lots of people who can find something to relate to in that process of transformation.
The lives of elephants are no less compelling. They are incredibly social creatures, who live in matriarchal groups, free of adult males and built around the care of young calves. They are among the most intelligent animals. They show signs of self-awareness, care for the sick and the dead, and cooperate both within their own groups and between groups. They have sophisticated forms of communication.
Elephants also possess another remarkable ability. They remember faces, smells, even individuals, often over long periods of time. I read one story of an elephant on a rescue farm who had lived there for 23 years, rising to the position of matriarch in the group. The rescue took on a new member, an older female who had been injured. Normally, the group would eagerly welcome new members, but not this time. When the matriarch met the new member, she smelled and felt with her trunk, and looked in the new elephant's eyes. She then responded aggressively, pushing the potential member away, despite her injury. The keepers were at loss to explain why. When they started looking into the injured elephant's history, they discovered that 23 years before, the new elephant and the matriarch had been in the same circus. A few calls with old keepers revealed that the matriarch had come to the circus as a calf and was rejected and bullied by the elephants at the circus. That group of bullies included the injured new elephant.
The matriarch remembered. And 23 years later she was able to do something about it.
Elephants remember. Butterflies transform. And in the Cherokee language, the two animals are connected, their stories intertwined.
When we have a trauma (and we all have trauma), we often remember the hard. We remember the struggle, the pain, the hurt. We feel the tears well up in our eyes, and our fists clench. We go to dark places.
But what if we could remember instead the transformation? What if we could remember the way it felt to emerge from the cocoon a whole new creation, one that could fly and flaunt its colors and drink deeply from the nectar of the flowers that surround it?
We are elephants. We remember things. We remember good things and bad things and hard things and beautiful things. And all too often those thoughts are isolated. They are like islands in an ocean of memories. They jut up here and there, standing out like green spots in a sea of blue.
But those islands - those especially memorable moments - are connected. They are all part of the same land mass. We just don't see the connections under the water - the water of time and life and busy-ness.
Our moments are connected and they tell a story. A story of transformation.
Memory. Transformation. They're the same thing.
Butterfly. Elephant. Kamama.
I don't know what about North Carolina smelled different. I mean. It was Waffle House. All Waffle Houses kind of smell the same. Like hash browns and desperation.
What I do know is that little girl was on her journey. With her family. Next to our family which is on its own journey. And now I am sharing with you. And you have your own journey.
Some things about your journey will feel familiar. Some things will be brand new. Some may smell new; some may smell like Waffle House.
You will remember all of them, like the elephant.
They are all part of YOUR story of transformation, like the butterfly.
As always, thank you for reading. I hope you have a wonderful week, and that you remember everything. Especially if it involves Waffle House.
Be well y'all.
Keep pounding the rock.
Such wonderful connections you have made in this post, Jeff. The way you weave a tapestry of words has always been your gift, and this post weaves so many threads into a beautiful work of art. Most of all, I like how you connected all of us. I love you and appreciate your gifts.