“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” ~Proverb
When you are young and trying to make your mark in life, or when you are older and looking for a new place in the world, it can seem that nothing will ever change, that you are just stuck where you are. Can’t you remember thinking you’d never be old enough to do so many things – to see a PG movie, to drive, to vote? It seemed as if we would remain those “too young” people forever, yet when we had just about given up on getting to do the cool things we saw the older kids doing, things changed — we were old enough for something new, yet still too young for other things. Nature and human life have so much in common. When we think the world is over because things never change, we might discover that we, too, become butterflies.
If you follow me on social media, you’ll have seen the most exciting journey over the past month, the journey from caterpillar to butterfly. A few years ago, I learned of the drastic drop in the number of Monarch butterflies migrating to the Oyamel firs in Mexico. From a billion butterflies, the number had dropped to around 30 million. The beauty of the Monarch made me want to do my part to help to save them, but it was realizing how these pollinators impact and are impacted by our agriculture that convinced me I should make a real effort. Enter the milkweed seed.
Knowing I couldn’t get Monarchs without the right flowers, I ordered a packet of milkweed seeds, their favorite treat. Unsure of where the seeds should go and not wanting to do it wrong, it took me another year before I even planted the seeds (I hope they weren’t all waiting on me to get busy!) I waited for the monarchs to arrive. I waited and waited. Didn’t they notice I was growing their favorite plant? No butterflies, no caterpillars. I felt like a kid waiting for the birthday party to begin. Finally, I saw a butterfly, but that was all. How was I really making a difference?
Spring arrived this year, the milkweed had spread a little like bamboo, and we had beautiful plants (and we had milkweed bugs). I was so disheartened with my inability to be a Saver of the Monarchs. But then it happened. I saw a Monarch land on the plant and had read enough to know that it was depositing eggs on the backs of the leaves. Quickly and carefully, I gathered the leaves, and thanks to my observant husband, we found several monarch caterpillars munching away at the milkweed leaves. With jars full of leaves and caterpillars, we waited. Then it happened. The caterpillars pushed their way out of their brightly colored skin and hung in hardened chrysalises.
From a little bitty egg deposited on the back of a leaf (most of which did not survive) to a very tiny caterpillar crawling around, we now had the final stage before a butterfly would emerge. There was nothing I could do to help them. I just had to wait. Out of seven caterpillars, four made it to the chrysalis, and three emerged as beautiful Monarch butterflies. It has been a magical journey for this human.
When the caterpillar is apparently full enough or maybe the time is just right, he puts some webbing above him so he can hold safely in place, and he begins to push out of the beautiful skin that has clothed him and emerges in an equally lovely, gilded shell to develop. He just hangs there, appearing to do nothing from what we can see, but he is actually busy transforming into the butterfly. This is where I see the biggest lesson for humans — he hangs there working quietly, appearing to just be resting, but we race around trying to do all we think we must to become the amazing person (or butterfly) we think we need to be.
After a week or so, this beautiful butterfly emerges and leaves behind an empty shell. The new Monarch doesn’t rush off to see the world, though. No, the wings need to dry a bit, so the butterfly just hangs onto the container or branch and waits some more. Notice the difference again with many humans, who seem to think they should hurry out and tell the world all they’ve achieved.
And once all is as it should be, the beautiful Monarch quietly flutters away. In fact, the three Monarchs that made it to butterfly-hood seemed to wait on me to see them (we had been out of town when they emerged), and as soon as I had some photos of them, they were gone. I hope they have a beautiful trip to Mexico, and I hope I can remember that 1)not all of my attempts to do great things will succeed 2)even when I’ve achieved a lot, it might not develop (like the chrysalis that never changed) and 3)I might be able to accomplish much more if I sit and wait instead of hurrying around. What about you? I bet there’s a butterfly inside of you just waiting for you to take some time to hang out and develop your beautiful wings.