Signs. Divine energy. Spiritual messages. Metaphysical sensations. Intuitive encounters.

Do you believe in any of these concepts? I am an absolute skeptic, nonreligious, and yet, hopeful. Everyone has their own personal beliefs about what happens when we pass from this life and this physical body. Some people just “know” that there is something better awaiting us on the other side. And many of us, like I, have an ambiguous faith that this life isn’t the end, because it’s too painful to imagine never reuniting with the people we love most in another realm. And for those who greatly suffer here, I urgently need to believe that they will find eternal happiness and comfort in another life.

It was during one of my routine walks through our university’s campus when I experienced something that felt unusual. Maybe it was simply my needy heart inducing my mind to fabricate a desired scenario – a coincidence. Or maybe there really is an energy that can’t be explained. And maybe it means something extraordinary, something that is sent uniquely to us as a message…

As I walked, silently and alone, I was forcefully startled by what I thought to be a bird that flew so close to me, it felt like we were in a shared vortex. I could feel the vibration of its wings next to my head. I looked up to discover than an eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly had flown around me in a whirlwind of energy and then lit in a tree on the path ahead of me. Granted, seeing a butterfly in Nebraska in August is not at all remarkable. But there were no flowers nearby, only a concrete parking lot, a brick building, and a busy thoroughfare of streets here. I had seen no other butterflies on my walk that morning, even as I had walked quite a distance through gorgeously landscaped sections of campus.

The tiger swallowtail has been a cherished species to me since I was a child, but I hadn’t ever really made that fact known to anyone in my family. It was just something that had always been woven into my essence and felt important for some unknown reason. I stood and watched, tears of awe streaming down my cheeks, as the beautiful creature sat on a leaf, opening and closing its ethereal yellow wings in slow motion for over five minutes. When a car pulled into the lot, I decided it was time to move on so as not to be seen crying, alone on a sidewalk. As soon as I began to walk away, the butterfly also took flight, and we parted ways. Did this beauty have a message of hope exclusively for me?

My mom passed away a few months ago. I have desperately yearned to know that she is ok, that she went to a better life – a utopia. And I want to know that she is still somehow with me, not only in my memory and in my heart, but really with me.

I kept walking that morning, through campus and then through the streets of our downtown business district toward home, thinking about what had transpired and trying to conjure an explanation. Surrounded by tall buildings and concrete streets, something else happened. Another eastern tiger swallowtail flew over me and landed in one of the few trees along the cityscaped sidewalk. Could it have been the same butterfly? I very much doubt it. Nevertheless, those were the only butterflies I saw on my entire 45-minute walk that day. Regardless of the meaning those glorious creatures held for me, be that divinely and intentionally delivered, or just the wishful thinking of a silly woman who misses her mom, it felt spiritual and significant.

A dear friend told me that everything is energy and that my experience was more than a fluke. I thank her for that. I will probably always be skeptical, but I know I’ll also be forever hopeful.

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