The Writers’ Circle: Black clouds and a black butterfly


By Hank Slikker
PREVIEW Columnist

“Black clouds matter,” said an anonymous voice somewhere behind me in the doctor’s office. I assumed the voice referred to the looming thunderstorm outside.

Of course they matter, especially for our sun-drenched county and our parched western United States. After awhile, forest fires and dry lawns need water.

Later, while driving home, the comment returned. I guess because “black clouds matter” bears such a sameness to “black lives matter” (BLM), they merged. To me, one adage pretty much identifies the other: both call to mind the political weather outside.

We see troubling storm clouds, a turbulence in the community, of neighbors blowing harsh winds in your face while you have dinner at your favorite diner, of lightnings of anger raging against you in a thunder of unspeakable words, of violence ending in bloodshed.

What will these dark BLM clouds ultimately bring? Will the clouds bring refreshment or destruction? What surprises live behind the looming dark curtain? Unfortunately, we do “need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” BLM evangelists tell us fair weather is on the way, while neighborhood climatologists expect doom.

I am not a fortune teller and I am not superstitious (although I carried a rabbit’s foot once). But foretelling the outcome of the current political storm seems to me is up to the storm gods. Maybe they can give us some clues as to what we might expect? 

Just two days before I heard the comment “black clouds matter,” a butterfly visited me in my study. This was no ordinary butterfly. Its wingspan approached 8 inches and it was totally black. While I know that butterflies do not endanger humans, my mind told me it probably had fangs.

I quickly called my partner to come look.

“It’s a bat!” she exclaimed.

“I don’t think so,” I said, “bats hang, they don’t stick to walls.”

She said, “Let’s call Paul” (one of our green friends).

So, I sent Paul a photo. He said he thought it might be a moth, but “its hind wing profile doesn’t match.”

As I looked for more information, I found out that black butterflies have great significance in many cultures around the world. Specifically, they bring omens, some good and some not so good. Was my visitor telling me something? Was it our weatherman?

A little more research told me that a “good” black butterfly omen has to do with a kind of life transformation meant for our advantage. Since butterflies morph from crawling, leggy worms into colorfully winged flying flowers, the message they bring might be something like our family relations will improve, or that we’re learning how to cope with aging.

A “bad” black butterfly omen, however, takes us into darkness. For example, it may foretell a message of death and bad luck. It may be a carrier of a deceased person’s soul. It may also be a lost soul who can’t find its way in the afterlife, destined to roam.

But can a black butterfly give us signals about impending political bedlam? I guess that remains to be seen, since our storm gods remain silent and since black butterfly omens can land either suitably or not.

What the weather always tells us, however, is that each moment cannot tell us about what will happen in the next one. We live our lives in mystery.

Political storm clouds also lead to a realization of the fragility of goodness. We see it in the betrayal of good by mute leaders, whose reticence to do right unfortunately leads to an undoing of personal character for some in the citizenry.

It is no wonder so many of us put our faith in God.