Thursday, March 26, 2015

An Old Metaphor



Today the butterflies emerged from their chrysalises.

My parents sent them to the kids for Easter as tiny caterpillars just a couple of weeks ago.

We've been watching them go through all of the stages of metamorphosis.

It's been an interesting process because, while I've known all about the process since I was a little girl, I didn't understand it until I saw it all happen before my eyes in my living room.

I love how God speaks so often in metaphors.

Maybe that's the English major in me.  I appreciate those things: symbols.  Figurative language given at the appropriate time.  Times in our lives when we most need to be reminded that there is Someone in control and it's not us.

I've been going through a lot of changes lately.  By lately I mean the last three years or so.  Sometimes it has felt scary and sometimes so wonderfully right and sometimes devastatingly painful.  I have seen this process played out live in the butterflies.

The caterpillars are small and timid.  They don't know that the change is coming.  They are just going about their lives.  Just eating.  Just existing.  As they grow some of them begin to change early.  They are chrysalises quickly.  I don't see it happen.  I am sleeping or busy or distracted.

When I finally do see one change form I am surprised.

The change is not peaceful and beautiful.

The change is violent and terrible.

The caterpillar hangs quiet and motionless in the shape of a J for many hours, resting.  Building up energy for the change.  When it is ready, its body begins to shake rapidly, seizing and shifting fast, faster, until the caterpillar becomes a blur of its own convulsion - and then "the skin splits open" (these words borrowed from Trish Cole) and the caterpillar begins the process of self-destruction, climbing out of its old skin and discarding it like tearing off a scab when it is not quite healed.  There is moisture and tearing.  There is pain.

Then the chrysalis rests.  It does not like to be disturbed.  It hangs.  It hardens.  It prepares.

As our caterpillars formed into chrysalises I noticed that one of them didn't seem to want to change.

It crawled around for two full days after the others were hardening.  Sometimes this caterpillar would go up to a chrysalis and nudge it a bit.

The chrysalis would shake back and forth, fast and hard to deter the threat.

The lone caterpillar would stare at this, then sink back to the bottom of the clear plastic cup that contained it.

Eventually, much as it tried to avoid the change, it was inevitable.  It happened to it, just like to the others.

I checked on them daily.

I saw that some of the changes had gone terribly wrong.  One caterpillar head from the old skin still hung, limp and lifeless from the top of the not-quite-closed chrysalis.  I grimaced with empathy - cut off - unable to change.  Clinging so to the old ways that the only way to move forward was to die.

One chrysalis turned black when the others turned green and gold and white.  I don't know what will become of the black one.  Will it turn into something completely different?  Or is black here, as in literature, a symbol of only death?

We go through life telling each other and ourselves that because change is inevitable we should embrace it without fear.  That we should come to it and embrace it, like a lover, with all the excitement and vulnerability that entrails.  But, I think, in reality, we more often approach change with fear and trembling like that last caterpillar.  We just want to know what is happening to us.  What will happen later.  Will I come out of this alive?  Or will my chrysalis blacken as I am encasing myself in my own tomb?  Will I split into two parts - hanging precariously over the cliffs of wanting and waiting and never ever emerging - a part of myself clinging to the old ways and a part dipping toes into the new ones but never allowing for full submersion?

I don't think it's fair to ask us to dive in head first without fear.  We have been through the process before and we know it will always be painful.

But here we are.

Those who have allowed it have shaped themselves again and again into something more beautiful and powerful than before.  We have taken the risk of leaving our creeping, crawling existence over and over - gone through the violence of the metamorphosis - each time in hopes that we will emerge with wings to fly.
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