Back in early March, my youngest daughter used some Christmas money to purchase some caterpillars and a butterfly habitat from Amazon. Over the past several weeks we have watched the tiny caterpillars grow into big fat caterpillars and now they wait silently in their chrysalises. Any day now they will push their way out and emerge transformed, their metamorphosis complete.
As literary symbols go, the caterpillar to butterfly transformation is fairly common. But I think it’s very limiting. This transformation will happen only once for our lovely painted ladies, for humans, transformation is repeated many times over our lifetime. And rarely is our transformation so well-defined, so clean, in a sense, or so linear. Our transformations are fits and starts, partial and incomplete, repetitive and sometimes regressive. Instead of small caterpillar to big caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, the life cycle of our transformation is any combination of any of these steps in any order. Little caterpillar to big fat caterpillar back to little caterpillar, caterpillar to butterfly, long stints in the chrysalis phase only to return to fat caterpillar. And we get to repeat the process many times over our lifetime, if we are lucky.
During the chrysalis phase, the butterflies are still and quiet, leaving my nine year old to wonder if they have died. Transformation takes a lot of energy, energy that appears less like movement and noise and more like hibernation, stillness. I imagine, it’s the most difficult part. The waiting. Spending the past couple of weeks eating must have been nice, pushing through the hard work of growing and then settling into the darkness of a cocoon. Waiting.
And so we wait also, to see if the caterpillars will emerge, reshaped, reformed, lovely. Although the butterfly only gets one shot at metamorphosis it is a complete change. And there is always the possibility that there will be complications during the undertaking, leaving us with a black cocoon that will need to be discarded.
We take hope from the forced task of the butterflies and struggle to remain patient with our own transmutations, enjoy the eating, be patient in the silence and never become too satisfied with a single transformation.


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