When I was in Ms. Sacco's third grade class we completed a science unit on butterflies. What I remember most is that we started with black bumpy little caterpillars, they hung from the ceiling of a cardboard box, made cocoons and seemingly like magic they turned into Monarch Butterflies. We had a release party.
Not once in 25 years (ouch!) have I questioned the process.
Over time I came to learn that butterflies are symbols of transformation, change, endurance and hope- I never questioned it. Of course they are! I mean look at this:
I never thought about the actual process. What makes the transformation possible? What they endure.
Apparently...its not magic. And it's not pretty either. No quick change. No in and out.
Baby caterpillars are born with everything they'll need to be beautiful future butterflies- the rudimentary proteins of wings, legs, antennae, etc. In the cocoon, an enzyme disintegrates everything EXCEPT the smart proteins (discs). If you happen upon a cocoon at this stage, all you'll find is soupy, gooey, yucky caterpillar liquid.
It takes practical disintegration before something solid and beautiful emerges*.
You know where I'm going... smiling sigh...
Now that I know caterpillars have to see a lot of yuck before they see beauty, I have a whole new appreciation for the metaphor: transformation, endurance, change, hope. They just seem so much more real. Shit, if I could hop in a cocoon and jump out new, better, stronger, faster, braver, lighter, beautiful, "healed," pick your poison- if you could jump in and jump out... wouldn't you do it too?
I guess it's not so simple. But two things reassure me.
1. That bumpy lumpy caterpillar, he's born with every single thing he needs from now until his forever. I think we're born with lots of what we need too.
2. Disintegration. It's an extreme word, but that caterpillar gets real ooey goey messy and vulnerable before she becomes something new.
So the next time (because there will be one) I find myself in what feels like a soupy mess- I'm going to try and remember that the butterfly doesn't just do a costume change. She endures. She mends. She builds and she gets to be new again.
*(Bonus trivia) Despite turning to goop, some moths retain memories of things they learn as caterpillars! What? I have no idea- but I LIKE it).