Only once in my life have I seen a chrysalis in person. I was younger than 10, still spending my days in the broad landscape of my backyard, hair amiss, skin sun kissed. I knew every inch of that yard. So when I found this curious little blob hanging deep in the lemon trees it caught my eye–or maybe my mother showed me, memory has a way of altering it’s tales.
But there it was.
Tucked back behind thorns, scraggly weathered leaves and faded lemons, long forgotten and waiting to drop. It was as if this caterpillar knew the dangerous journey it was about to blindly embark on, choosing the most sheltered and seemingly unpleasant of places to go within, following its instincts into a transformation that it has never before known. And while I’ve only seen one chrysalis, I’ve seen thousands of butterflies. They take my breath away, these fluttering works of art and dance. If you do the math, this would mean I have been surrounded by chrysalises, hidden journeys tucked away that have gone unnoticed. The protective instincts of nature hard at work and successful of its intent of keeping the magic safe from seeking eyes.
I am not unaware of the cliche of the chrysalis and the butterfly and the transformation but what really strikes me is the protective element. In our most vulnerable moments we could all be easily gobbled up by many a predators, one of which is our mind and actions. We are our weakest when we are changing. So we withdraw and enter dark, quiet places, driven there by a protective instinct. Call it your shadow self or just alone time, we all know the familiar pull of seclusion when times get tricky.
Today, or yesterday, or tomorrow, at 12:01 a.m. our state enters a time of lock-down, or shelter-in-place, or stay at home order, or whatever it’s given name. It’s been difficult to keep up. But here we pause, all tucked away. We stay home, we stay away. The entire community, state, country and the world have entered our chrysalis. We’ve established boundaries, we’ve filled our cupboards, we’ve pushed aside much of our work and friends and our plans and we remain in our chrysalis, blindly trusting the journey we are on in this very sensitive time, unaware of what growth is occurring.
As luck would have it, we have a very special thing happening in our family. The 18th birthday of my niece, Nanea. One can’t underestimate what a metamorphosis this is. She has worked extremely hard, attained success in athletics and academics and is all set to launch into a new world of college and get to know a new community in a afar away land. I remember that time for myself. It was a scary and thrilling time. You really feel like you are entering the world. And for Nanea, and the rest of us, it could be argued, the world itself is more unsettled than ever.
As girls become women and as boys become men, we fortify the walls of their growth with guidance and celebration. We circle around them and mark the moment in the form of proms, ceremony, parties, graduations. Celebrations themselves are forms of protection in times of transformation. With baby showers and bridal showers we gather to bring gifts of necessity and prayers. In birthdays we make wishes on fire with hope for the future routes around the sun. Bachelor parties, well, I don’t know. But bolster those in times transition great hope and love.
Last week after weeks in the house, away from friends, and school and activity. After watching every celebration she looked forward to potential cancelled; proms, senior day, award ceremonies, and now her birthday. You could really feel the heavily on her shoulders. I mean, we can all feel it, right? I told her to take off the sweats and get dressed, and we set off to do a photo shoot. As her wise-old aunty, I told her “sometimes you have to put on your best shirt and make up and you’ll instantly feel a bit better. A celebration of self.
And today gather around her in our selective seclusion. We turn to the quiet and celebrate as well as we can, 6 feet apart. I’m sure there will be FaceTimes and IG Shoutouts. As the world goes more and more quiet, we will watch the glow of eighteen candles dance, cast out by the breath of a newfound adult. Childhood as she knew it, up in smoke.
I can’t say we come out of this better than before, though I think we will. I can’t even promise we will be transformed by this, though I truly think we truly will. But I assure you we will break out of this, back out into the light and the bustling world, we may even miss some facets of this quiet time. We are all in varying states of vulnerability and change. Don’t underestimate the possibilities of this time and the even more so the time beyond this. Though we are blind to the results, we can look to nature as an example: protection and pause, patience and as much joy as we can fester up: four walls to our current chrysalis, as we alchemize into a new way of being.
Blessed Birthday Nanea!