Sunday, April 12, 2009

What's Wrong with Caterpillars?

I hate to admit it, but this post is inspired in part by the Hannah Montana movie. See, there's this theme that runs through it (and ties in to Miley Cyrus's latest song) about caterpillars turning into butterflies. This issue was already on my mind because a few days ago I saw a quote that said, in essence, that in order to become a butterfly one had to want to fly badly enough to be willing to give up being a caterpillar...and I thought, "What's wrong with caterpillars?"

Of course, there's nothing wrong with butterflies, either, and I'm all for encouraging those who really want to fly and are willing to put in the work and make the sacrifices and hone their talents and give it their all. But I'm not quite sure everyone should be so willing to throw away the caterpillar life.

On the way home from the movie, I repeated the quote to my daughter. Predictably, she immediately pointed out that the analogy was flawed, because "all caterpillars are meant to be butterflies". But are all humans meant to "fly"? I'm not so sure. Or rather, if we are, I'm not sure that it means what we think it means. And I'm not sure that we have to give up being caterpillars to do it.

Caterpillars, after all, come in various shapes and sizes. Once, when my daughter was 8 or 9, she was looking out an upstairs window and spotted something that sent her running for the front door. It was a big, fuzzy, bright yellow caterpillar--so big and bright that it looked like a dandelion moving across the lawn. She dropped to her knees in the grass and asked softly, "What are you?" and we watched it all the way across the long front lawn. Butterflies had nothing on that guy. What a shame if he'd spent his whole life being dissatisfied with what he was because he couldn't fly, hm?

I've flown; I've been a butterfly. It has its advantages and maybe it's something everyone should experience. But should we aspire to live our lives in the air? I'm not so sure. I think I'm a caterpillar when I'm walking with my daughter in the evening, when I'm making her dinner and taking my mother to the doctor and sitting by the fire in a coffee shop with a friend. I think I'm a caterpillar reading novels on winter Sunday afternoons and sitting here in my not-so-orderly bedroom writing this blog post. I'm a caterpillar when I'm bowling with my kids, or feeding my grandson, or helping a neighbor child with her French homework. And I don't think I want to trade all that in to fly--I think I'm good with the ground under my feet.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

I think you may have misunderstood the intent of the quote. Becoming a butterfly does not necessarily mean 'flying above everyone in a state of ecstasy and enlightenment' (or in human terms, giving up all worldly possessions to become a monk and dedicate ones life to meditation and awakening)

What it means is being able to be present and free from thoughts and emotion that tie us to the ground. I would say bowling with your kids, feeding your grandson, helping a neighbor with French, things that keep you engaged in the present moment ARE you being the butterfly.

Good work.