The Grand Emerging

For Tyler’s birthday, I gave him a butterfly garden.

We ordered our caterpillar larvae, which were rerouted when they couldn’t be delivered on a windy day when nobody was home to receive them.  Mail carriers are picky about live creatures.

Finally, they came. Five little caterpillars.  Charming little guys.  The boys named them:

Tricia (I was deeply honored to make the list), Sunshine, Harry, Wilbur, and Lois.

But then, after some debate, Lois was renamed Thor.

We watched them so closely, studying them every day.  The boys checked on them first thing in the morning, and they said good night to them before he went up the stairs.

We watched them climb to the top of their jar, and dangle from the top like hanging apostrophes.

We watched as each one grew the chrysallis, perhaps my most favorite stage of all.  I thought their cocoons would be hard, grayish white, but they are irridescent like the scales of a fish, shining and glittering in the sunlight.

I became wordless with symbolic parallels: the most beautiful part of the cycle was when the butterfly was held captive in her cocoon, when she couldn’t see the sunshine, when the greatest challenge lay before her.

Somehow, in retrospect, I loved that even more than her grand emerging, her careful wings unfolding.  So much happened when she was tucked away, hidden from us.

We watched as they sensed us near them, as their cocoons wobbled and shook to ward off predators.  They didn’t know we loved them so much.  They didn’t know they were safe.

We watched them emerge – three of them, then four, and finally five. Each with painted wings and a flittery-fluttery courageous spirit.

We lined their garden with flowers and leaves, and we sprinkled sugar water to feed them each day.

I didn’t foresee that this gift to Tyler to be such a gift to me, to watch five versions of the same life cycle unfold in my living room.  I watched closely too, right alongside the boys, all three of us budding scientists.

Of the whole transformation that happens inside that glittery chrysallis, I was most fascinated to see the difference in the butterflies’ legs.  As caterpillars, they had pairs and pairs of creepy-crawling feet, but when they emerged as butterflies, they had six long, sturdy legs to stand on – and taste with.  I just had no idea how much could happen in there.

I used my happy voice as I began to talk about the day we would set them free.  “Won’t that be a special day, guys?  Won’t that be beautiful to set them free and let them fly wherever they want to go?”

Tyler was skeptical.  “No.  That will not be a happy day.”

I know, buddy.  I’m just trying to talk it up so we can let them go, let them be free, instead of holding them inside our home until we have to watch them die.

I counted them each morning.  “Three, four… and…. aha!  Five.”  Whew. I was ever afraid one would die overnight.  They only live for a couple of weeks after they emerge, so I knew we didn’t have an unlimited amount of time.  Still, I couldn’t let them go on my own.  They belonged to the boys.  And one boy in particular was pretty attached.

“I think we should set them free today, Mommy.”

I dropped everything I was doing and followed his lead. We set their garden on the sidewalk, and we took turns reaching inside, sliding a finger so carefully underneath a butterfly, letting her climb onto our fingertips, and then bringing her out to freedom.

It was so great.  So, so great.

(Great is the word I use when I can’t find the better one.  This was even better than great.)

You’re free, butterflies.  Do your beautiful butterfly thing.

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6 thoughts on “The Grand Emerging

  1. I love this post on so many levels. One of the audio tapes I listened to (by a life coach with skill in transition) said that the caterpillar doesn’t just morph into a butterfly. It literally dissolves into kind of a caterpillar goo, I guess, and THEN it changes form. Somehow, during my season of watching one life blow up while I waited for the next to begin, this was comforting. Because I knew that what I had been through had in many ways “dissolved” my identity before… and God would literally have to make ALL things new. Of course, I’m still me. But a new me. And frankly I like this post-trauma me a whole lot better.

  2. Illustra Media recently issued their latest awesome look at our intelligently designed universe. This one is Metamorphosis. Caterpillars are created to do nothing but eat and grow, then morph (literally) into a creature which can not only fly but reproduce. The camera looks right into the chrysalis at what is happening and yes, it literally dissolves and is resurrected before it ever emerges. The Monarch migrates unerringly from North American winters to a small forest in central Mexico. The miracles involved with butterflies are manifold. Magnificent film! There’s a promo video at their website.

  3. First, Becky – I’d love the name of that coach! I think I could benefit from her/him. :) Second, this post is just so, so GREAT. :) There is something holy in a little family taking in those beautiful creatures and loving them, just to say good-bye. You had to watch your Daddy and Husband shed his chrysalis for a new and better life. You had to say goodbye then too. What a smart Mom to give her sons a gift that speaks profoundly about life beyond death. You rock.

  4. “Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you.”

    – Stephen King (Shawshank Redemption)

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