Chrysalis. Such a weird little word, one I had nearly forgotten. Until my son brought it home from school one day and it triggered a rush of memories from my own childhood.
His class was learning about the cycle of life that sees the caterpillar transform into the butterfly. They were learning – just as I had decades before – that tiny eggs hatch into tiny caterpillars with insatiable appetites, growing roughly one hundred times their size until eventually reaching the chrysalis or “pupa” form. This is the metamorphosis stage, and when it’s over, that stumpy little caterpillar is no more. Instead, it emerges from its cocoon as a butterfly. A symbol of beauty. A thing of wonder.
And it strikes me that of all the things of wonder in the natural world, there must be a reason why schools everywhere, decade after decade, choose this story as one of the first to teach our children about nature and science.
Perhaps it’s because this story has so much to teach us about our own lives. Sure, childhood takes a bit longer than the two-month span that sees a caterpillar become a butterfly, but it does go by rather quickly. It can seem like when we reach adulthood, all that growing and changing comes to a stop. We’re thrown into a world of responsibilities and obligations, and it’s easy to set aside our own needs and personal growth – especially once our own children become part of the equation. Adulthood allows us to conveniently forget that change is an option. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that the power of transformation is not resigned only to caterpillars and butterflies; the power of transformation also lies within each of us.
I’ve never had a conversation with a caterpillar, but I can conceive what one might say. I can imagine their uncertainty, their panic, their dread, of what’s waiting for them on the other side of those long dark nights. If they were privy to the knowledge of what does come next, I can also imagine their excitement, their hope, their resolve. I can envision each one of them wrapping themselves in the comfort of Nelson Mandela’s wise words as they spin themselves into a silky cocoon: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Maybe that’s why we learn this amazing story at such a young age. So we always remember that all things are possible. So we know that there’s a beautiful world out there to explore, but first, we have to grow our wings. So we never make the mistake of believing that the way things are is the way they have to be.
Or maybe, it’s just that butterflies are so dang cool. That’s the answer I’m pretty sure my son would pick.