We delight in the beauty of the butterfly but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty. Maya Angelou
Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one. Marianne Williamson
“I’ll be back in the beginning of May, for the Ren Fair.” I practically sang those words a month ago to my two oldest grandkids, who, at four-and-a-half and seven-and-a-half, can comprehend about how long it is between my evenly-spaced visits. And, in the beginning of March, it seemed perfect, to plan my next trip out west to coincide with Moscow, Idaho’s Renaissance Fair, a rousing three-day celebration of spring’s return. Moscow, a small college town in northern Idaho’s panhandle and home to our sons and their families, doesn’t hold back at this annual festival of merriment held in the largest of their city parks. There’s a huge May Pole and May Pole dances, and art booths and face-painting booths and booths selling garlands of flowers to wear in your hair. There are stations of food and drink, a stage set up with live music and dancing, and haystacks surrounding it to sit upon when you just want to soak it in. There are llamas and goats and ponies to ride and fairy wings to strap on when you feel like fluttering above the crowds and fairy dresses and tie-dyed shirts and costumes galore and a huge paper mache dragon with a snarling head that weaves its way in and out of the milling people fueled by the tiny feet of a line of little kids. It is as if the world busts free in Moscow, Idaho after the dark months of winter and the unpredictability of early spring into a blossoming fluttering pollen-laden joyously-raucous song and dance of newly-imagined possibility. “Of course, I’ll be back for the Ren Fair,” I told the kids.
And I meant it a month ago. And then things changed, things shut down, almost immediately after I flew home to Upper Michigan. A virus swept across the sea and the land, and we, the people of this earth, were required to go inward, to spin ourselves cocoons of safety, to ride out this early spring storm from our home-spun shelters, no buying tickets for the next trip west, no planning ahead, no holding on to the way things used to be.
In early August, in the small wild garden that nestles up to Joy Center’s entry, the butterfly weed blooms bright with orange clusters of flowers. This past year, these plants began to look chewed up, ragged — and the culprits were right there, present in plain sight, plump and perky and black and yellow zebra-striped. Caterpillars were devouring the leaves, and becoming more plump by the day. I never found the cocoons they later spun, but one sunny Sunday at the end of the month, Cam and I stopped at Joy Center to water the plants, and there they were. Two of them. One fluttering above the coneflower, the wild onion, the sunflowers, the other spread out in the sun on the paved walkway. Two wide-winged and brilliant and brand-new monarch butterflies. We were present for there arrival, the one on the walkway just drying its wings, still unable to fly. It felt like a miracle. How could it be that those plump zebra-striped caterpillars transformed into something so different, so light-filled, so expansive?
And I think about the monarchs now and wonder whether there is something for us to learn as we settle into our own hand-spun cocoons. It’s just a guess, but I’m thinking that caterpillars hunker into their protective casings and allow the next stage to happen, with no resistance, no trying to hold on tight to their caterpillarness. And I’m guessing that they have nourished themselves for this journey, taken as good care as possible as they embark on their transformation into butterflyhood. And I also am thinking that they don’t try to figure it all out, where a wing will sprout, a leg will grow. They just let it happen. I see that for us now, that this is a time to nourish ourselves, to sink into the slower pace of the cocoon, to just allow the transformation to take place as we listen to what feels right and good in the moment, what opens our hearts and brings a lightness to our spirits. In the deepest part of me, when it is time to break free from our cocoons, I sense we all will be changed. I sense that the changes will be a good thing, that we will be lighter, more loving, more expansive, our world more connected. But how can I — how can any of us — from inside a cocoon know exactly what this world will look like, what we will look like? It’s not time to know. It is time to be exactly where we are, safe in our cocoon homes, in the in-between time.
And when we do bust free of this protective covering, perhaps there will be dancing in the streets and live music and fairy wings we can strap on and little kids fueling paper mache dragons and raucous laughter and booths filled with art and food and garlands of flowers to wear in our hair. Perhaps we won’t have to plan it. Perhaps it will just happen.