I wonder about the butterfly. As a caterpillar, does she know? Does she have any idea what life has in store for her? She crawls along the ground in filth, covers herself in dirt. Only occasionally, she tries to climb up – along the trunk of a tree, the side of a house, the stem of a flower. There’s something up there! Does the caterpillar know that she can have it, if only she will wait?
Perhaps the cocoon is the exhaustion of waiting. Perhaps she wakes up one morning and realizes this is not her world, that this is not where she wants to be. She wants the flowers and the trees and the clouds. She wants the freedom to wipe the filth off her belly and escape the ground. But when she looks down at her legs, she knows she cannot. For legs are not wings. Legs are just legs. They are just there to keep her grounded, to keep her where the dirt seeps in between her toes and she’s reminded of her place in life – the bottom. The dirt. The muck.
So she walls herself off. She creates the darkest of dark places, the protection of the cocoon. If she cannot have it all, then she wants nothing. If there’s more out there, something that draws to her, it isn’t fair to make her look without touching, to hold her down.
She wasn’t made for this, Lord! She wasn’t made to be taunted mercilessly by the things she cannot touch, all because she was born with legs and not wings.
In the cocoon, she is safe. There is nothing to tempt her, nothing to remind her that she is destined to crawl along the ground. Nothing to say, “You can never be any more than you always were.” I wonder if she hears anything in that cocoon. Does the world seep in around her? The constant buzz of a bee’s wings? The wind rustling through the trees? The sound of a storm? Can she even tell any more whether that world she thinks she hears, outside of her darkness, is real or just a voice in her head? Does she know?
Can she feel herself changing? Does she wonder what’s going on outside of her shell? The world – is it the same as before or is it, too, changing? Moving on without her? Does the world remember the caterpillar? Is there some marker set up, some cross along the side of the road that says, “This is where the caterpillar gave up and closed herself into darkness”?
Maybe there’s an ant somewhere who stumbles upon the cocoon and doesn’t know what it is. Maybe the ant pokes around, prods the thing until it turns over or starts to break apart. The ant takes a piece to the hill for whatever highly sophisticated engineering project the colony is taking on, then leaves the cocoon toppled with the caterpillar still inside.
Great, the caterpillar thinks with a sigh. Now I’m upside-down and still nobody knows I’m in here. Nobody pursues me. Nobody cares. They probably don’t even miss me. I’m better off here, just where I expected.
In her effort to right herself, to at least re-orient her body in the darkness, her leg pokes through the weak place in the cocoon, the place where the ant has picked apart her home, her protection. A toe hangs out. Her darkness is ruined.
Light spreads through the hole and invades her space. Her darkness is flooded with the tiny speck of light, which expands to fill the void. Her eyes sting from the brightness, from the realization of all she has missed. The world, it has so many colors, so much life. There are worse things than spending it crawling across the ground or futilely climbing in the trees.
She remembers the flowers. She remembers the sky. Oh, how she used to long to touch those things! Why did she ever stop longing? Where did her wonder go? Was the pain of her bondage, her legs, so great to bear that she was better off living in her darkness?
But no matter. Her darkness is ruined now. Even if she were to want to repair the defect in her cocoon, there is no convenient way. She must get out and start over, re-gathering the raw materials to shut herself off again.
As she bursts the hole open further…further…further, her body emerges into the fullness of the light, into life. Does she know right away it has changed? How could she not?
She tries to crawl out, to move along the ground in the way she’s so accustomed to, but something is not right. Her body! Her legs! They’re…they’re…gone! It’s hard to stand, to even move. Her body weight, no longer spread along the ground, bore by the weight of many legs, now shifts awkwardly on just a few. Something on her back changes her balance, toppling her over with each attempt to move. She turns her head slowly and discovers…
Oh, they are beautiful! she cries, taking in the colors. Reds, pinks, yellows, purples, blues! They are all there, just as she’d always imagined! Not that ugly, textured body of the caterpillar, but the wings of a butterfly.
She wonders if they are steady, if they work, if the slightest damage will cause them to break. Could the wind rushing through them tear them to shreds? What are her wings made of? Where did they come from? She certainly didn’t remember packing wings into her cocoon!
So still she walks, crawling along the ground, taking delicate care to protect her new wings. How could something so light and airy lift her body weight off the ground? She knows she could never fly. She wouldn’t want to do anything to risk her new body, her new experience.
Then she sees a flower glowing in the sun. A cloud passing by overhead. These were the things she’d always dreamed of touching, of keeping within her reach. She’d labored to climb, to touch them, just once. Now, seeing them again, she cannot contain herself.
Without her body’s permission, without her conscious thought, the sheer excitement and joy of her surroundings sets her wings aflutter. Slowly, her body lifts from the ground. For a moment, she fears and tries desperately to stop it, to land. But the flower is now within her reach, the water vapors of a cloud surround her as she soars higher, higher, higher. She can see the world from here! It is full of wonder, life.
She wonders if her wonder was really wonder at all, and she knows she never considered there was more beyond the flower. All she ever wanted was the feel of those soft petals against her face; she’d never dreamed of this.
Now, she can dream of nothing else. The tenderness of her wings no longer concerns her. They are more than enough to lift her off the ground, for she realizes it is not her wings that carry her; it is the wind. The same wind that howled through her woven darkness now holds her safely as she soars. She glides. She turns and flips and flutters, even as other creatures look up at her in wonder.
She is beautiful. And she is free. And when she lands, though her wings are weary, she knows she cannot stay there. Her legs provide the strength to ground her, to give her rest, but she is meant to fly. That is what she’s been created for! That is it!
In the reflection of a pond, she sees herself sitting atop her much-prized flower, and she realizes: I am beautiful. Something happened to me in the darkness, when all I heard was the wind and the life around me, when I couldn’t see because I didn’t want to see. Something happened to me there. And now, I am beautiful.
At the base of the flower, a caterpillar struggles to climb. She sees it in the reflection, and she cannot help but wonder about the caterpillar.
Does it know?