My friend, Annamarie Gatto, aka the Domestic Badass, is a modern day Dr. Doolittle. She’s taken in or taken care of everything from cats to dogs to turtles to a praying mantis named Hades. (She spoke of him so fondly, I sent condolences when Hades passed away.) Her latest creature cause has been caring for the caterpillars in her garden as they transition into butterflies, setting up a makeshift butterfly hatchery in the empty fish tank in her living room and posting regular updates on their progress.
Lately, I’ve been going through my own sort of progression, prompted by a lot of soul searching, taking stock, and inspiring books that people keep recommending to me. (An upcoming milestone birthday may also be playing a small part.) Many positive changes are underway—though not without their growing pains. Some feelings that bubble up I don’t even have the words for; other insights are meaningful only to me, uninteresting to others, and I’m cool with that. But I find I’m having an increasingly harder time communicating to the outside world—I don’t know if my mouth is going to spontaneously start to recite fortune cookie wisdom, offer up recipes for grass-fed pot roast, or sing Sondheim lyrics. Even the critic in my head is losing her tongue, sounding more and more like a babbling baby (of course, I welcome that). For a woman of many words, I feel like I’m learning a new language and I struggle to find worthy things to say—I delete more emails and Facebook status updates than I post and I’m terrible on the phone. So, for now, I speak in allegories, in metaphors, in analogies (“It feels like…,” “It’s as if…”) when I talk to people. Hubs is able to keep up with this scattered train of thought most days. Close friends, if aware, are patient with me. Hell, I don’t know if this essay makes sense. The Beast, like always, seems to understand me best, even in my silences.
When Annamarie began posting her butterfly updates, I sensed I’d found what I was trying to express. I asked her for a picture of the chrysalis, the protective coating in which the caterpillar sheds his former self and changes into something else entirely. That is me, I thought. That’s me right now. Transforming, shedding old skin, old patterns, and old beliefs and coming into new ideas and attitudes. I’ll post the pic to Facebook. Hashtag: selfie. And that will explain everything I want to say, I told myself.
Annamarie immediately replied with photos and a note:
Sometimes when they first emerge, they will fall because their footing is a little shaky. If they can’t get to a high enough place for their wings to hang and dry, they won’t form properly and they will never be able to fly. This happened to both hatchlings today. So I help them out. They crawl right onto my fingers and I hold them up to the top underside of the nursery lid so they can settle in and hang in a larger area (and get a sip from the flowers). Usually this is easy, but one decided that she liked my finger so much she stayed put for an hour before deciding to move, lol.
I was so struck by the beauty and simplicity of her words I nearly cried. This is the allegory I’d been looking for, perfectly describing the synchronicity and state of my life: I am emerging. I could see all the pivotal points in my story up to this moment, when I’d lost my footing and fallen, and when others—friends and strangers alike—were there to hold me up as my wings dried. No words I know could begin to express the gratitude I feel for that; I now get why I’m so tongue-tied. Annamarie could never have imagined how profoundly her words would touch me. Unlike butterflies, it’s never so easy to tell when we humans are in or breaking free from our chrysalis. Sometimes we need that benevolent finger to cling to and hold us up until our wings dry and we get about the business of flying. Other times, we get to be the one with the helping hand.
Today, let’s imagine that everyone we meet is going through their own wondrous, labored transformation, shedding their old skin and preparing to emerge from their chrysalis with the will to fly. How can we help them dry their wings?