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Lonely? Join the crowd

May 8, 2020 - Chris Elkins

Monarch butterflies gather on top of flowers at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, near the town of Chincua, Mexico.

Lonely? Join the crowd.

Monarch butterflies gather on top of flowers at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, near the town of Chincua, Mexico.

Recently, “Nature” on PBS released some breathtaking footage of monarch butterflies awakening from their winter rest in a forest deep in Mexico. Mysteriously, millions of them show up in this forest every fall to escape the harsh winters of their northern habitat. They huddle together in this Mexican forest for warmth and rest. Millions of them. 

The footage was taken by a drone cleverly disguised as a hummingbird. It was designed in such a way to not disturb or put at risk any of the butterflies it came near. And, since monarch butterflies and hummingbirds are friends in nature, this “hummingbird” is not seen as a threat by the awakening monarchs. In this three-minute video, you’ll see a butterfly actually land on and take flight from the wing of the “spy.”  

There’s something about aging that creates a fascination in many of us about hummingbirds and butterflies. I regularly fill my hummingbird feeders just to get a glimpse occasionally as one stops in for a quick snack. I plant bushes like lantana and buddleia that attract butterflies. But, seeing the Nature footage of this incredible community of butterflies coming to life and beginning their northern migration was unlike anything I have seen.

It reminds me a little of the “coming to life” that I see going on in my community. Most of us have been “sheltering in place” for several weeks now. Not unlike the butterflies in the video, we have found safety in a season of sheltering. But various communities and states are beginning to announce relaxation of quarantine-like restrictions. My hairstylist-daughter starts work again today with a schedule that makes you tired just to look at. Most of us are ready to migrate back to some kind of normalcy. 

These past several weeks have taught me how valuable community is. Yes, I have been on dozens of Zoom calls, Google Hangouts, and other means of being together while staying apart. And, as incredible as the technology is that allows us to do this, there’s no digital replacement for the need to be together. Physically. Same space. Same time.

But what’s ahead likely won’t be the same. Especially at first. While my church will soon begin gathering and worshipping together on Sunday mornings, we are still expected to socially distance. How we receive communion will change, too. The various programs and ministries of our congregation will be limited, at best. No more bear hugs from Gloria as my wife and I enter the church building. 

Oh my, what about Vacation Bible School? No Little League games or soccer matches this summer. Like the monarch butterflies, our migration back to “normal” will be long and fraught with risk. I plan to wear a mask for the foreseeable future. Maybe gloves, too. 

Importance of community

It is apparent that we are not built to stay in seclusion—no matter how warm or safe. Like the butterflies, there’s only a season where we can stay in shelter and inactive. 

We are lonely people, ultimately. It appears almost all of us need community. Especially a caring community.

These past weeks have made us a displaced people, by and large. Our children, our spouses, and our parents need more community than a screen can provide, no matter how technologically engaging. And, when we get all of our information and stories from TVs, computers, and smartphones—and not from interaction with each other—we often see a skewed culture with too much violence, substance abuse, and sexual content. 

I admit it. I am needy. I need community. Quarantine has brought me face to face with . . . me. And while a season of seclusion has been redemptive, even productive, like butterflies, I am sensing a need to “awaken” and return to daily life and interaction. I need a purpose that matters and involves caring expressed in other ways than “emojis”. 

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