Have you ever had a chrysalis moment? Maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about. It involves children, and generally confounds people. I, like most parents, had mine when my son was about four years old, and we discussed the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. We discussed how the caterpillar eats and eats until it goes dormant in a cocoon, then emerges as a butterfly.
He stared at me for a second and said “chrysalis.”
“Huh?” I replied, intelligently.
“Not cocoon. Chrysalis. Moths build cocoons. Butterflies make chrysalides.”
Chrysalides? Holy… Wow. Just wow. It rhymes with “Miss Silly Bees,” by the way. Nothing like a having a four year-old make you feel stupid.
That’s all I’ve got to say about butterfly morphology. My real point is the pupate form itself, the cocoon (or the chrysalis). It’s a period of intense transformation, out of which something amazing, unexpected, and completely different emerges. Over my lifetime, I’ve undergone several of these moments. I’m sure you’ve done the same too. These days, I’m constantly reminded of the demise of my alma mater, as I watch fellow alumni wade through Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief. I went through a similar period a few years back, when I left the University. My family came out of that state better than before, definitely changed. I believe, in fact, that we all hope to become better people when we emerge from times of trauma. Who knows what will happen to us? What’s the old maxim? Don’t judge somebody until you’ve walked a mile in your shoes. By that time, judge all you want; after all, you’re a mile away, and have a nice pair of new shoes.
I’m putting on my pop-psychologist hat, which I’ve stored on a shelf next to a shoebox full of old photos, and my wife’s clarinet. Really, it’s not a hat. It’s more like a visor. Or a headband.
OK. I haven’t got a hat. And I’m totally unqualified to advise anyone else. Still, that said, in a few moments I’ll be shooting off my mouth anyhow, because that’s just the kind of guy I am. I don’t know much, but I know that people hurt, and I know they are shaped by events. And I feel for them. Our shared experiences make us who we are; moreover, they make us family.
So, back to butterflies. I remember as a youngster, picking cocoons off the tansy plants in the fields around our house. One day (I promise you, only once) I thought I’d peel one open, just to see the butterfly inside. I don’t suppose you’ll report me to the SPCA, but suffice it to say, it contained nothing but goo. The poor caterpillar-yet-not-really looked like snot a little casing full of. When those caterpillars change, they really change. It frightens me to face a major decision point, and perhaps unscathed, but unchanged. If our life doesn’t change us, then what are we? Either we’re perfect, or we’ve given up. I couldn’t wish that kind of life on someone. Still, let those without sin salt the first slug. I can’t condemn anyone.
My next question is this: what if the butterfly that emerges is a complete jerk? You’ve met this person, and so have I. Mr. Carl Chrysalis, from the Pixar feature Up!, lost his wife and he now struggles with his loss. I mean, the guy sold balloons! Before this event, he was a great person! He loved kids, hugged stray puppies; he probably gave to Amnesty International. After all, who doesn’t love a guy who sells balloons? But something about the death of his spouse changed him. He became… Well, just look at him! We all know him. We could all be him. Hopefully we have some sympathy for a person like him; Carl’s not bad, but broken.
The ultimate change is pure, unadulterated butterfly stage. We’ve been transformed by the change, become stronger, better, more loving. No snotty ten year-old picked at your cocoon and spoiled your rebirth. You spread your wings, perch on a twig and carefully dry yourself in the sun. A few minutes later, wholly something new, you fly away. Who isn’t amazed by butterflies? I know one person who’s terrified by moths, but they have issues. So we may become.
What will emerge from our personal moments of enormous change? We can hope and pray for the best, but we should expect anything to happen. Just don’t become nothing; don’t feel nothing. The point of life is to grow and change. It’s painful as hell. You’ll get slimed, but don’t stay there. Move and grow, and become. Believe me; if I can change, anyone can.