She just turned six, and she wanted her face painted.
She couldn’t tell me, but her mother said she loved butterflies, and purple and pink were her favorites. So I loaded up my brush, drawing it gently across her cheeks.
A flicker danced across her lips, too small for me to see it.
But her mother noticed. “Oh, you like it! Does it feel good on your face?”
I brushed her dark hair off her face.
“I’m just making sure I don’t get paint in your beautiful hair, mija,” I told her. “You are going to look so pretty.”
The butterfly took shape, iridescent pinks and purples blending. I began the details, outlining it in black, adding swirls of white to the wings. When I leaned over her wheelchair to paint its body down the middle of her nose, she smiled again. This time, I saw it.
“You look like the butterfly queen, lovely girl,” I told her. Her eyes flickered open, not seeing, but still seeking the new voice. “So beautiful.”
Her smiling hospice nurse came over and laughed, “oh girl, your bath tonight is going to turn pink and purple!”
Her mom hugged me, and they were off — heading for family pictures in the pumpkin patch as my heart broke in a thousand pieces for the butterfly queen who will never see 7.
And then, I turned to a little boy with bright eyes, and loaded my brush to turn him to Batman.
Because this is how we survive this fallen world.
In the valley of the shadow of death, we paint butterflies and Batman masks. We brush the hair out of each others’ eyes and remind each other we are still beautiful in our brokenness. We hug strangers, we hold our friends’ hands. And as much as we can, we offer grace and mercy. We are bumbling, flawed people, but we try our best to love each other anyway.
Because we were loved first.