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Metamorphosis

July 8, 2014

On the wall of our den hangs this print by my friend Ann Eldridge entitled “Consider Change.” It shows a Monarch caterpillar that has attached itself to the underside of a leaf and hangs in the classic “J” shape that precedes the shedding of its stripy caterpillar skin to reveal a chrysalis.

Ann is a keen observer of the natural world, the sort of person who will spend hours watching a caterpillar that, to the quick glance, is just sitting there doing nothing. She has watched caterpillars writhe around as they get themselves firmly secured to the silk pad that will be their anchor as they pupate; she has seen the skin split and the green jewel of the chrysalis come into view. She has described to me her understanding of what’s going on inside that caterpillar skin: “Basically, it’s liquefying its insides and starting over.”

I love my “Consider Change” print, because in two words and a picture that is only slightly larger than life size, she presents a metaphor that has served me at various times as a challenge, an affirmation, and a comfort. Right now, I’m feeling it as affirmation and comfort. Maybe I’m spending more time than I usually would sleeping and watching Netflix because I’m pupating, and not because I’m a worthless, lazy so and so! This liminal space thing, where one thing is over and another has yet to begin, it does not feel so much like vacation to me, although my calendar is more open than it has been in years. It feels like hard work.

I was talking to Ann yesterday and when I listed all the things that are kind of up in the air in my life right now, it reminded me again: there are good reasons why I feel kinship with that caterpillar beginning to liquefy its innards and start over. It’s more than moving from one job to another, although I’m doing that. It’s more than sending my firstborn off to college, although next month I’ll be doing that, too. It’s more than anticipating moving Mom into residential care – that happens right after I get back from the drive to Arizona and back, and it’s anybody’s guess how that will go. I see the rheumatologist on Thursday to find out what a rheumatoid factor of 15 means. It’s all of this.

All these transitions are stirring up Big Life Questions. In addition to the “Who was I?” and “Who am I?” questions referenced in an earlier post, “Who am I becoming?” is the roiling, liquid-innards question of the moment.

I read up on metamorphosis, and it’s not, as it turns out, total liquidation. Some structures – legs were mentioned – remain relatively unchanged. And apparently all learning is not lost; the butterfly remembers things it knew as a caterpillar. But the rest of the body, as described on HowStuffWorks, “breaks itself down into imaginal cells, which are undifferentiated – like stem cells, they can become any type of cell. The imaginal cells put themselves back together into a new shape.”

That is my new favorite word right there, people. And it feels exactly right for those between times when one is waiting – when I am waiting – trying to figure out how to change, and how to stay myself. I’m in an imaginal state!

By the time I eclose in August, and begin my next internship – “eclose” is the science word for emerging from the pupal state – I would like to have rendered my house (and my soul) less cluttered, more organized, and more welcoming of visitors. Yesterday I read an article by a favorite poet, David Whyte, and was struck by the first stanza of “Start Close In:”

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

And that is why I am spending this week sorting clothes, donating what doesn’t fit or flatter, filing papers… staying close to home, cleaning up the messes I have made, trying to be gentle with who I am in this moment, imagining who I may yet become, and coaxing myself to take the next first step, the one I don’t want to take.

I’ll keep you posted. You keep me posted. It sure does help to compare notes!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2014 12:02 pm

    Oh my gosh! I was just going to write about caterpillars and butterflies, myself. I love this so much. Thank you for sharing. I’ll let you know when mine gets written. 🙂

  2. December 30, 2014 11:11 am

    How’d I miss this last summer? Oh. Right. I was hiding in my own cocoon…

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