My friend recently found a butterfly chrysalis attached to a plant outside her home and watched as the beautiful monarch emerged into the world.
There was a problem, however, as this butterfly had a curled, deformed wing. She brought it into her house and has been caring for it. She even named it: MissCurlyQ.
The good news is that MissCurlyQ is thriving in my friend’s care. The bad news is that she will never fly into a flower of her choice and experience sucking its nectar.
This got me thinking about the life of a butterfly and how it is the perfect metaphor for the challenges we face in our own lives. How does the caterpillar completely rearrange itself to become a butterfly?
Picture the plump caterpillar. Within the first days of life, it begins to eat everything in sight. In fact, it eats up to 100 times its weight in a day. It eats so much that it becomes heavy and lethargic. Too bloated to continue, it attaches itself to a leaf and hangs upside down, and a chrysalis (hard pupa shell) forms around it to camouflage and protect it.
Inside the hard chrysalis, deep inside the caterpillar’s body, a highly organized group of tiny cells, known as imaginal discs, begin to form. The caterpillar’s immune system doesn’t recognize these discs and so it begins to fight them, trying to kill them off. But the imaginal discs are strong and they keep forming faster and faster.
The imaginal discs fight against the resistance. They begin to link up, and soon, they overcome the caterpillar whose body then turns into goo—a nutrient-rich soup meant to feed the imaginal discs. As the discs feed on this soup, they become butterfly-specific cells. They begin to form the parts that make up the butterfly. A few clump together and form a wing, more clump to form the antennae, more for the eyes, the legs, and the body.
Once the butterfly is fully formed, the chrysalis becomes transparent. The butterfly can now claw itself out of its protective shell. It emerges as a fully formed butterfly, but in an upside down state. It is somewhat disoriented as it waits for its wings to dry and release from where they are stuck to its body. As it emerges from the chrysalis, it appears to pause in gratitude; honoring the chrysalis and the caterpillar, thanking them for the food and protection they offered. Then, off it flies into this brand new iteration of its life, remembering its “caterpillarness” but fully ready for its “butterflyness.”
I think we are a little like the caterpillar. We move along in life, feeding ourselves through our experiences, nourishing ourselves with all that we’ve learned. As we move through the experiences of our lives, we often get stuck in patterns that don’t serve us. We become bogged down, sluggish, and maybe even hardened.
One day, we become exposed to something new that excites us. Along comes a new idea, a better way of being, a new imagining. We may resist this at first, but in spite of our being a little frightened, in spite of our resistance, this new calling begins to take shape and become stronger.
Everything we’ve experienced up to this point is a part of the “food” that nourishes our growth. Without all of our life experiences, we may not have the perspective to envision the ways in which we can grow and transform.
As we drop our resistance, our transformation takes shape and we emerge as a new person, fed and strengthened by our whole life’s journey. We are strong and ready to fly. And if we are wise, we feel gratitude for the journey that brought us here.
I believe the butterfly’s story also reflects a story of our country’s struggle to become a better version of itself. Is it possible for us to reinvent ourselves? Long standing institutions of misogyny, racism, and oppression have resisted the emergence of a new way of being, but the old way is no longer sustainable and the time has come for us to emerge as something better. Our collective experiences, no matter how painful they have been, are the soup that will feed the arrival of a new way of being. “Time’s up” indeed.
MissCurlyQ, by the way, has been serving a greater purpose in her life. Her host mother happens to be a nurse practitioner in a wound and convalescent center. MissCurlyQ travels to work with her host mother to sit on the hands of patients. I hear that tears of joy and wonder stream down their faces as this little butterfly sits gently on their hand while their wounds are being treated.
MissCurlyQ has become a therapy butterfly.
She may never taste the nectar of a flower, but she has tasted the nectar of compassion.
Author: Kathy Bolte
Images: Author’s Own
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron