Two-hundred and fifty chrysalises, still sealed in bubble wrap awaited me at church on Easter morning, tucked neatly away behind the cleaning mops on a shelf in the back room. I was concerned that they would all be dead and worried that I should have opened them the day before.
As I cut open the packaging, the rustle of life grew. I panicked. Was I going to open the box to find struggling butterflies? Squeamishly, I pulled out three small boxes in which the 250 chrysalises stirred, packed ever-so-neatly like ammunition. After peaking into one box, I squealed and ran like a child to vent my concern to a volunteer in the sound booth that there was no way I would be able to drop these tiny alien-beings into 250 small cups for everyone to take home following our Easter service. But if it was going to happen, I knew I had better get on with it because time was short, just two hours before the service was about to begin. Hesitant to get too acquainted with the wriggling not-yet-butterflies, I gingerly handled each chrysalis. By at least the 100th, I was picking them up and talking to them, willing them to survive; I quickly placed them in their temporal homes, small plastic cups capped off with filter paper and lids by my daughter and another young volunteer willing to help with the endeavor.
Once everyone had claimed their butterfly-to-be, my kids and I took 7 remaining chrysalises home to hatch. Even the one in our bunch that wriggled early that morning became still, each one silently transforming beneath the thin shell that enveloped it. Everyday that week, we picked up the small plastic cups which housed them and wondered at their stillness. They looked dead. Certainly they had not survived. I emailed the butterfly farm where we had ordered them from to ask just how long this would take. Patience ensued. We must wait. Even still, I studied them each morning, looking for some sign of life.
Then, that Friday, over a week after they began their journey to Maryland in a cooler-packed box, my daughter discovered two of them fully emerged in their cups on our kitchen table. We sliced a clementine and placed the butterflies in their temporary make-shift home, the inside of our salad spinner turned upside down on itself to make a dome.
What appeared dead was now very much alive. Each butterfly began its own story–one with a bent wing seemed less courageous to leave the safety of it’s salad-spinner turned-home; another flew off immediately upon being released; one flew clumsily into our neighbor’s backyard; one died in the process of emerging from its shell; one disappeared after our cat knocked over the bowl in our kitchen, quite possibly enticed by the fluttering he observed in the container. I found half of him with a quarter of his wing left, dead at the top of my basement stairs.
The metaphor for life was blatant in the wonder and mystery that was their coming and the common narrative that was their going.
The following week I took a walk with a friend, a bit of a catch-up after months of not seeing each other. She is on her way across the pond to live and work with her husband in England for a spell; and, with a baby on the way, adventures of all sorts are in store. She referred to the momentous changes just ahead as a “defining moment” in the course of her life.
Just like those butterflies, we each emerge into our own stories. Yet, those butterflies know (or don’t know, depending on how philosophical you want to get) that they are butterflies. Their stories are packed with the metaphor of what was but now is, of being wholly transformed into something new. During their metamorphosis they literally shed their skin and liquefy. To become something new, whatever was solid becomes, to some extent, “mush” so that something completely new can form from the cells that are there. This is their defining moment.