BUTTERFLY MEDICINE / Adapting to Change by Tara O’Grady

Tara O’Grady

I had plans. Big plans. During the summer of 2020, I was going to record a new studio album of songs I wrote while living in Key West. Songs about mangoes, mocking birds and butterfly gardens. Songs about mermaids and smugglers who beg your pardon. What other place in the world could inspire a songwriter to mention both a banyan tree and a gumbo limbo tree in the same verse? And I was going to return to my Key West sanctuary to perform the new album in January 2021. But something came up, something bigger than my plans – a global pandemic.

My last gig with my jazz band in New York City was on March 10th. All my gigs and flight plans for the foreseeable future were cancelled. By the following week, my Covid symptoms began. I had it all, the fever that lasted twenty-one days, the shortness of breath, the fatigue. And living in the epicenter in spring meant hearing ambulance sirens day and night. I was frightened my symptoms might get worse and anxious about my uncertain future. I didn’t know when I could return to work so I applied for unemployment and remained inside my small apartment until I assumed I was no longer contagious. By May, I remember being worried I might have missed the cherry blossoms in bloom. I don’t think I ever really considered those particular trees before quarantine. But as humans, we yearn for what is denied. I suddenly yearned for the spring’s awakening.

When my energy returned, it took weeks to build up my strength to simply walk half a block, then a full block, and eventually half a mile, then a full mile. During these walks I was in awe of nature’s magnificence. A robin’s nest with Tiffany blue eggs. The sound of wind through the trees. The smell of rain. One day, an oriole landed on a nearby fence. We shared a sacred moment. I knew it had an important message for me.

It’s amazing how life can change in a year, a week, a day, a moment. I now watch shows on Netflix and it’s like seeing cave drawings. Oh, I think to myself, in the past people used to gather and socialize and embrace and dance and kiss. The strangest thing about this experience is that we are all having it, the entire globe. Think about that. This has never happened before in human history. The entire planet on pause, in the same fragile predicament, grieving the loss of our lifestyles, our jobs, our health and most unfortunate, our loved ones.

But despite the losses, I am grateful for the gains. For stillness, and patience, and slowing down, and quality time with the people who matter most. I am learning to adjust, adapt, accept and go with the flow. I know we can survive and thrive as a community despite the challenges we have faced. Just look to nature. Every spring she is reborn, transforming, awakening, like a butterfly soaring from the cocoon.