On Living and Dying Day 30 by Ra Avis

I grew up on a farm, the sort where nothing obstructs the view of the sunrises or sunsets. The sort where there’s more acres than people, more cows than buildings.

One day, after a bit of a windstorm, I filled a bucket with well-water and splashed it upwards and over my roof. There were leaves gathering there, and I decided it was better that they wash down the drain now, rather than wait for the next part of their journey. If they stayed there, they’d turn into a home for a bird that couldn’t live well up there, or they’d turn into mulch for a roof that would eventually give way and join them in rot.

The water rushed through the drain, gurgling as it struggled to move past all the debris I knocked from the rooftop, finally pushing it all out in front of my feet. There was a pebble, and a slimy tangle of unnameable gunk, and a few leaves, and around all of it, was a giant monarch butterfly. A dead one.

I must have killed her– drowned her with the force of my splash, with the purpose of my urgency.

I died then, too, for just for a second.

It was as if a motionless butterfly hugged its wings over me– a sticky wet tarp over my heart– suffocating it, for a beat at least.

I couldn’t stop staring at her wings. Undamaged by the storm, simply motionless and beautiful– the perfection of them making my stomach roll. There were ugly things in that pile, too. Tangles riddled with gunk– ugly ugly things. The sort that make strong adults choke on air, the sort that make it so no one ever wants to look too deeply into the dark abyss of their drains. But it was the fallen beauty that stopped time, it always is. An object in motion stays in motion, and an object paused is contagious too.

Death is coded into us.

A spider knows how to spin at birth, and we know how to die. It is our web, that we spin inside of us. We spend a lifetime with that trick up our sleeves, just to make sure it surprises everyone else when we play it out.


Once a moment of time dies, it stays dead. Time waits for no one, least of all itself. It becomes a leftover– a fragment– and our hearts aren’t built to process that while living, so a part of us dies with that moment.

In that way, carrying death with us is a critical part of living. It is a web spun from the gossamer threads of our ancestry. That web pulls and snaps inside of us when we recognize loss. It bounces inside of us with stretch and agony– pushed and tugged by the unstoppable buoyancy of living.

And we are tiny robots, trying to process it all into the binary. Sometimes it breaks us a little bit, sometimes we crash. Nothing lasts forever, and some things are built for their eventual end.

We recognize even the echoes of death, in our core.
We recognize ourselves in the patterns of the universe so that we can continue the code.

We are temporary machines, born with the understanding that we will survive all our storms except the final one.

It is why we die with the ones we love, and the fallen ones we see. It’s why we live in the ones we love, and ache for the loss of lives we never knew.

We reason life and death into now and then, before and after, ones and zeroes– and some part of us can’t help but hope for the possibility that might exist between those two points.

It’s why it is so very important to let yourself break, at least a little bit, over every little bit. It puts a hiccup in the code, a space between the binary. It gives a little more elasticity to the web inside of us– the one spun from magic and grief, instinct and love.

We are temporary machines, but the program we run is eternal. We are each other’s ancestors.

And all those butterflies that are washed away? All those dead seconds that time left behind?

They aren’t wasted.
They aren’t forgotten.

We carry them forward.
The final fog of a magic trick, passed from one generation to the next.

They will be the spun-strength of somebody’s life. The birth-wealth of somebody’s human inheritance.

They will be somebody’s magic.


Written for the On Living and Dying series.  If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more info here: 365 Days On Living and Dying.  Ra Avis writes over at Rarasaur.com, where frightfully wondrous things happen.  Pop by and say hey.

Featured image via Unsplash.com

(Psssst: Sreejit gave me the top secret dungeon keys and let me post this on my own, so if if something is messed up, it’s all me.  Love you much. – Ra )


  1. When I began reading this, I thought it was just so monumentally depressing, but then I realized that it really is a celebration of life. Thank you for writing this.

    1. Thank you for reading. I’ve had an odd few years that have made my thoughts on this darker than they once were, but there is hope and happiness in everything always. 🙂 The universe is magic, you know. 🙂

      1. I’ve always thought that people who run away from the darker side of life, the sad things, death and dying, are missing out on a crucial part of life. I’ve always wanted to embrace those things — not necessarily to celebrate or enjoy them — but to experience them and not turn away. They are just as much a part of life as life is.

  2. Wow, beautiful. So poetic even though it’s prose, kind of like life is so beautiful even though it’s strung with death. Don’t think that I didn’t notice that you didn’t post on Rarasaur between the time that I asked you and the time that this came out. Thanks so much as always for delivering. I’m off having fun on Amma’s tour but still enjoy reading when I get a chance so am keeping up, somewhat with the reading part of blogging from my phone. This was a great surprise today.

    1. I only wrote at all because it was you who asked. ♡ And I am so very glad you did… it was good to get rambling again and it’s always a joy to write for the Dungeon. I find myself doing less emotional editing of my thoughts when I know it’s for your space here. ♡ I appreciate you and I hope you’re enjoying the tour!

      1. Doing less emotional editing of your thoughts I think is the greatest compliment that you could give me so thank you. Tour is great. It’s like the best and the worst of everything, but mostly the best. Getting dead tired doing something you love is always worth it so I’m pretty fulfilled.

  3. Gosh, this is too deep for my tiny brain. I’ve read 4 or more times and each time I come away with a little more. It’s almost like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Each time I read it, another piece connects. Beautifully written. <3 (Also I now look around my bedroom wondering if I am in the Matrix).

    1. Hey Bradley, as you’re deciphering the matrix maybe you can turn it into your own On Living and Dying post for the series! I am also getting more out of this article each time, like, “We are temporary machines, but the program we run is eternal. We are each other’s ancestors.” That’s like a little bit of scripture right there. A whole book could be written on that idea.

  4. I love this post Ra. It is so profound, poetic, perfect. I agree with the other readers who commented. This is one I will read over and over again and get something new from it each time.

    1. Your post also reminded me of a time in my past, which was wonderful at the time, but painful for me to think about now. When I was young, I had a butterfly collection. I would catch them and kill them with some liquid and mount them carefully on a display board. They were so beautiful. I rarely see butterflies any more and I hate having contributed to the demise of any of them. At the same time, I can see how my love of those butterflies heralded the love for nature I have now.

  5. Very nice. I think we know what we need to know as children, then decide to forget them as we grow up.
    Thanks for sharing

  6. I love how you developed your grand concept from the small tangible task of washing your roof, and the insightful parallels which followed. A brilliant analogy, analysis and delivery! I especially love the pause given to fallen beauty. For me, that speaks to how much wonder we abandon in life by chasing, hiding, avoiding, worrying, covering and just dealing with all the stuff… the race, the expectations, the judgments, the disappointments, the failures, the regrets, the death and the dying. There’s so much we miss by either not pausing or simply not looking for the beauty in all things… including ourselves. Love this piece <3

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