By Dana Gornall
“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
~ Lewis Carroll/Alice in Wonderland
When my children were little we bought a live butterfly kit, like you see in those nature magazines.
I’m not sure now if it was for one of the kid’s birthdays (because their birthdays all run so close together) or if it was a purchase made on a whim, but I remember their excitement when we opened it. They thought we would automatically have butterflies, as though they would appear right out of the box and fly smartly around instant and quick, but soon found that we actually had to send away for the larvae. This would take time and they would need to wait.
So we sent away for the tiny worm-like creatures that could possibly turn into butterflies, and shelved the box and container for later. The day came when our mailbox held the neat, square cardboard box with five little worms. The kids were excited and so was I. We followed all of the instructions, put some grass and sticks in the house along with larvae food, and waited.
And waited. And waited.
Finally one morning five little cocoons magically appeared. At some point, in the middle of the night they had crawled to different places in the netted house and spun tiny white shells around themselves. My children stared in awe as they hung so precariously, dangling from a thin thread-like piece of cocoon.
“When will they come out?” my daughter asked. “Soon,” I told her.
And so we waited. And waited. And waited.
The children grew impatient. This wasn’t any fun, staring at the gray-white forms, unmoving and uninteresting. My daughter took it to school for show and tell. The kids were all expecting butterflies, and were instead disappointed to see nothing really, but grass and sticks and dormancy.
And then one day, after being out and about doing the things that families do, we came back to see that two butterflies had magically emerged from their homes. It wasn’t exactly magical, and yet it was full of magic at the same time. It was both beautiful and ugly—the once neatly wrapped cocoons now torn open and red, a trail of butterfly blood winding to the top where its legs now clung tightly to the netting. The wings were tiny and shriveled, and they trembled and shook.
Wide-eyed and full of questions, my children wanted to know everything, wanted to touch them, play with them. We looked up everything there was to know about butterflies on the internet. We rummaged our refrigerator for fruit to place inside the netted house for them to eat and continued eyeing the three other cocoons, waiting to see if they would open too.
And two more did. Both, just like the others emerged when we weren’t looking. Both left their shells open and raw and red, and made their way to the top of the netted roof and trembled and shook and pumped blood into their wings until they spread fully. One cocoon lay still, unmoving and forever dormant—choosing not to change, or maybe simply unable to.
The day came when we needed to release them.
It was both sad and exciting, to let go of these spectacular winged creatures that we watched from the beginning. Once tiny white worms that had grown fat and long and hibernated, break open and bleed and then blossom into something so much more.
Gingerly we brought the netted house outside and opened the door. One butterfly quickly flew out, as if it were waiting for that door to open its whole life. Another followed suit almost right away, trailing after the first, flying high and fast and gone before we could follow it. The third, so slowly and carefully edged closer to the door. We watched as the air took its wings and almost forced it out of the house.
The fourth stayed inside. We waited.
And waited. And waited.
My daughter quickly grew bored and found other things to do. My son had lost interest after the second one flew out and went off to look for snakes. So it was just me now, sitting cross-legged on the driveway watching. And waiting to see if the fourth butterfly would fly.
It was then when I noticed his wing wasn’t quite right. Feathery threads forming glistening lines and patterns reached up to the fringes, yet one small section appeared to be rubbed or worn or broken. I stretched my hand in, carefully lifting him up under his needle-thin legs and held him in the palm of my hand.
He would never fly.
The weight of this thought rested on my heart like the force of a fist. Making my way to the cluster of bright orange poppies that had bloomed a bit early that year, I placed him on a blossom. And I let him go.
It seems the last few years have been filled with so much change. I’ve gone from nothing—a tiny white worm hungry and without direction—to finally finding the courage to crawl out of that space and hibernate. From deep inside, I’ve searched for ways to change, to evolve, to tweak, to transform—and I did.
I forced my way out, ripping through the walls I built for protection and emerged shaking and trembling, raw and bloody. Creeping out to the top, I rested my new wings—feathered and glistening, yet small and unused.
It’s here I am waiting. And waiting. And waiting.
The door is open.
Alis volat propriis.