Brown Butterfly Colombian Jungle

Brown Butterfly

April Heath


A Tribute to My Dad

Back in June 2023, my niece suggested we plan an overseas trip. My immediate reaction was NO. (I’m weird, I know.) The following Thursday, my spiritual advisor closed our session with a reminder: You can always ask your ancestors for wisdom and guidance. You can ask them for signs.

I thought of my dad and looked over at his picture hanging on my bedroom wall. His idol had been Muhammad Ali and his favorite color had been brown.

I said, “OK. I want my dad to send me a brown butterfly.” I’d never seen one in my neighborhood.

“OK.” My advisor opened her eyes wide. “That’s specific.”

“Exactly,” I said. “If I see a brown butterfly, I can’t second-guess it. I’ll know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s my dad giving me a sign.”

On Saturday at work, my coworker and I were waiting to go get our clients for a couple’s massage. He asked me if he’d shown me photos from his trip to Colombia already. Alex raved about his trip and the deals on airfare he’d gotten. Then he came to me with his phone and scrolled through the photos he’d taken in the Colombian jungles.

When he got to a photo of a brown butterfly that had landed on his sneaker, I stopped him. Words tumbled out of my mouth in no particular order.

“I guess I’m traveling,” I said.

After work, when I got home, I used Alex’s tips for traveling on the cheap, and booked a flight to Chicago for the September Women’s Fiction Writing Association 10th Annual Conference. Next, I made arrangements to visit my friend in Minneapolis for the first week in September. Last, I decided I’d finally visit Washington, DC, and coordinated a visit to see my cousin for the second week in September.


Wednesday September 6. I arrived in Minneapolis. The next day, my friend and I went to town to rent electric bikes. We stopped at a pub for lunch and had a drink. When we arrived at the bike rental shop, the clerk decided my friend was too drunk to be trusted with a $2400 electric bike.

“F*ck him,” she said, and we walked away empty handed.

“Did you have a drink before we left the house?” I asked.

She shrugged. “I had some wine.”

“Oh, my God, you had wine before breakfast?” I considered her life’s responsibilities: single mom of 30-year-old twins diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder who will never be able to support themselves. Nearest friend 15 miles away. Full time job and sole responsibility for a mortgage of an old house. Alcohol was a coping mechanism. 

And it was failing.

We sat on a bench along the Mississippi River to sober up and maybe try again at the bikes.

“Nobody knows how hard it is for you,” I said.

She shivered and her voice broke. “Nobody understands. It’s so hard.”

We cried together, and I gave her a reassuring hug. She wiped quickly at her tears. “This is so embarrassing. I’m ruining your vacation.”

“Maybe this isn’t so much about me being on vacation as it is just showing up as your friend.”

“Look what I saw,” she said, and tilted her phone at me. A brown butterfly. 

That’s when I knew my old man on The Other Side was giving me his seal of approval. This trip was in fact about friendship.


On Saturday, I flew home. The following Wednesday September 13, I embarked on DC.

My cousin is quite the walking Civil Rights factbook. Day One we visited the Frederick Douglas House. Day Two, we went to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

After a couple hours on the lowest level, Concourse 3, the heavy and oppressive history weighed down on my soul. I begged for a fresh air break. So, we went outside where there was endless sunlight, fresh air, and freedom. Once I collected myself, we went back to the sidewalk where we’d waited to go inside.

“Hang on,” my cousin said. “There’s something about Sheltering Oaks that I want to take a closer look at.”

“OK,” I said.

A few minutes later, cousin called me over to see for myself. A couple feet down from the plaque she’d been studying was another plaque about flora and fauna important to the area. An orchid, a plant, a tree, and a brown butterfly.

That sign told me the DC trip was about family, lineage, and my place in history. I felt my dad’s presence all around me.


Of course, by time I got to Chicago, I started looking for brown butterflies everywhere! I saw absolutely none. No real butterflies. No mosaics, no murals, no nothing.

I had lunch with Vicki, one of the conference attendees, and we talked about English. She said, “Why would anyone say ‘good morning’? Good grieving first thing after sunrise? What’s that supposed to mean? I say, ‘Joyful rising.’”

“It comes down to spelling, right?” I said.

“Exactly, spelling, casting spells. English is a language of sorcery.”

I found that fascinating, but I really took a liking to joyful rising, and tried to make a habit out of saying it in place of good morning.

Months later, on our way to work, I asked Roomie what she thought of the name Joyful Rising Spa and Wellness Center. It lit her all the way up.

“That hits different than Cielo Azul. I love the name Joyful Rising! Girl.” That was her approval and even though Cielo Azul had been the name I’d had in mind for over ten years, Joyful Rising took over just like that.

I googled joyful rising just to see if the domain name was in use or available, and I came across www.joyfulrisingwriting.com.

OK, I thought. Joyful Rising Spa is free and clear. The wheels in my head began cranking again, fueled with a desire to be my own boss. Just like my Old Man had been. I started listening to podcasts about wellness, massage, spa business, leadership, and marketing.

On December 19th, I was about to listen to episode #239 of the Scaling Wellness podcast, when I read the intro. Danielle Ratliff of Joyful Rising had a snippet on the episode. My eyes popped out. I clicked on the link and sure enough, it was the same! The home page featured a photo of Danielle seated at her laptop. On the credenza behind her was a framed photo of a multi-colored butterfly.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” I said to myself. I smiled at my father’s photo hanging on my wall. “Thank you, dad. I’m going to be the one.”

I contacted Danielle through her online form, and she got back to me the next day. We finagled a date and time for our initial consultation – December 27. A Wednesday night, and also what would have been my dad’s 99th birthday.

Significant numbers, if you ask me.

Since that time, I’ve lost my job and been catapulted into raising seed capital for Joyful Rising Spa. Where I’m starting is scaled way, way down from the grand vision, but I have to start where I’m at. One foot in front of the other.

But my ancestors are backing me, and all the right people are flowing into my life. Sure, I miss the paychecks and the robust benefits package, but those brown butterflies are not to be ignored or trifled with.

This is my time, and I promised my dad I’d be the one to be successful at entrepreneurship.


I’ve been trying to make a go of writing as my next career move since 2017. That’s seven years. During the Pandemic lockdown, I had all the time in the world to write, so I did. You can’t imagine how much time and effort it took to get as far as I did.

I’d been featured on a small press video, interviewed on a mental health blog, and interviewed on a podcast. Two of my short stories earned honorable mentions. I even won a couple monthly short story contests. I got certified as a developmental editor and launched Mack’s Writers Rescue. I did the damn-near-impossible – I got agented in 2020.

It all mattered deeply, and I was extremely proud of myself. But how many more revisions did my novel manuscript still need to woo a publishing contract? I’d spent years on one manuscript to gain the attention of an agent. Then I’d have to do it all over again to win over a publisher’s editor. Then again to launch to the reading public. How much could I sell the book for? A year’s pay? Ha ha ha.

The more I took stock and considered the future, the more I realized that writing had to drop back to being a hobby. The road ahead was lonely, since writing is a solitary endeavor. The road ahead was long. That road was beset with pitfalls and risks. The payoff was too incremental and too far off into the future. How much do people pay for paperback novels? $20? $15?

It made more sense to leverage the 15 years of experience I already had as a massage therapist. 

This won’t be the first time I’ve attempted to run my own show, so what makes me believe it’ll be different and better and bigger this time? I’ve gained the wisdom to know that there will always be things I don’t know. There are things others can do better. There are things I can do better. All I know is I promised my dad that I’d honor the entrepreneurial streak he gave me, and I’ll never give up on myself.

In January, I wanted to record all the gratitude of the whole year, so I went to Barnes & Noble in search of a gratitude journal. One stuck out right away.

Brown butterflies, anyone?

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