flight.

I accidentally felt happy. For days and weeks after the visceral, physical breaking out of the cocoon I was bound up in, a feeling kept flitting in my side view. Brief and effervescent, blue and bright and entertaining. What was this? It was familiar and fleeting and then swooped back up and out and I laughed, a lot. Smiling in my kitchen alone, at the sun in the window I realized this was happy.

It was so long since I felt something similar to this—so many shedding skins ago, that I kept quiet. I didn’t want to shoot back into a caterpillar skin or reincarnate into trying and testing again if I spoke it out loud.

A few weeks ago I went to D.C. on a work trip, flying into air I used to be afraid of, settled in with a movie and few hours of silent shuttling sky, sitting in tandem quiet with a kind-souled fellow traveler. I wish I could explain what happened then, maybe someday there will be words for what it is when two people who have both found themselves as butterflies find the same draft of air. For now it is enough to know that while the cocoon may feel lonely, newly winged flight is not.

I spent the next five days waiting on couches in hotel libraries, trying on hats and wandering new streets, running to keep warm and crying from the cold. I came home and talked on the phone, met people in stores and smiled, sipped soup and felt full, bought bread and coffee creamer and wore warm socks on frigid nights.

I lived. And until then I thought what I was doing before was living, but it wasn’t. It was leaning toward what I thought would feel more, look better, seem easier somehow. I was waiting to live until living felt nicer. If I could go back and try it again, faster, better, would I? No. I had moments of great through every minute of my life as a caterpillar and cocoon. I had family and love and friends and a life that held me while I found my way to this. I hold it in my hands like a cup of warm tea, look across the steam and see sugared sunlight fall through leaves, see the shadow cast of light in an afternoon room, and I know that this life is magnificent.

It is magnificent.

transfigured.

Folded into the wings I’ve grown are the ghost of legs I used for years. Legs of belonging, agreement, attention and finding what was outside me have lengthened into wings of belonging to me. Agreeing with me. Attention from me. And finding me. In all the loops and whirls of unchartered flight I learned for once, and for all, perhaps, that evolving into the new means to stop explaining the old.

One cannot be a butterfly while explaining why it consumed so many leaves. It cannot find space above trees while rationalizing why it used to hide under branches. You, in all your winging acrobatics, cannot pause to talk of why you inched and crawled and fell sideways off limbs too brief to hold you. It was enough that you did. And in all the shifting changes that brought you to the tilting dance above spring sodden fields and running children, your wings were being built.

It wasn’t that the crawling was the way you used to be, it is that the crawling was you. It wasn’t that the time of silent cool surrender needs an apology or explanation, it was quiet and sacred, and yours—fiercely protected and honored and held in the new eyes formed from the ones who didn’t yet see this new expanse of green shafted sunlight. Nothing from the butterfly is made from elements outside the cocoon. No new materials or building blocks are stirred in to the slow marching shifts of caterpillar vessels to the butterfly heart that pumps through wet wings, preparing for the first solo flight as a wonder-work of art. Who you are is who you have been. Every quiet turn of an insect head, every slow motion descent into the layered walls of your own un-making, every stretch that brought you out of where you had last been.

The day the cocoon lifts off your head and throat and heart, you will never be the same. You may look backward, wondering what happened, how you got here, why it all seems so different. And then, in the clear call of a loon singing over the just set sun, you will know. You will beat your newly formed wings that seem somehow familiar, cast as they were from the slow, certain legs that carried you. You will move your four wings in a reverent figure eight pattern of infinity, and on the next breeze you will go where you have always pointed. To seed the next changing, to lay the eggs for another transformation.

Why lay eggs just to do this all over again? Why crawl on the ground, swing alone in a pod of your own making, dull and quiet, just to dissolve into a new strange and winged thing? Because your life is a life of a million butterflies. And after the transformation, after all of the searching, shedding, and silence, you know what the tops of trees look like. You have felt rain soaked wind move your wings, smelled a breeze over a field of new clover, and sat on the edge of a pine branch on an early August morning…and it was magnificent.

It was magnificent.

transformation. part two.

“It is impossible for you to go on as you were before, so you must go on as you never have.”

Cheryl Strayed

I wonder what the first thing a caterpillar does when it winds it’s last sinuous thread, closing its senses off to the world of leaves and rain and birds looking for crawling things. I would imagine it exhales, once, twice. Its body no longer inching toward the next thing, does it know that if it rests it can never be the same?

I believed that the period of time I was feeling burned out, dried up, and spent, was part of the trying of a caterpillar life, but now I see, it was part of the dissolution of that life. We live in a world of trying, a circled, spinning, kaleidoscope of new books, videos and quotes to pull us to the next level, a culture of self-care striving, believing that taking measures to feel better will bring you back to when you felt something.

We want to feel the way we did when we hoped what we learned through myths and legend was true. There was a list somewhere, one naughty, one nice, and if we worked really hard we would earn gifts on a snow melted brown morning instead of coal. No one we knew actually ever got coal, but it was possible—the story powerful in its threat of not getting what we wanted, what we asked for, after twelve months of being watched by a man in a different shaded and felted red suit each year, depending on where you saw him.

This myth of earning beautiful things nearly ruined me. And yet, it was part of the necessary giving up; the exhale, once, twice. Right after I wound a last sinuous thread, a many months long respite from the noise of living. It began with signing out of all social media, stopping the news, no more magazines, or documentaries of unsolved murders and pretend tragedies, acted and scored to create danger, suspense and the locking of doors and windows against what might be out there.

I stopped shopping, for 40 days and 40 nights, the cease fire of credit cards and online wallets biblical in proportion. There was no more seeking the next color and shape of clothing to cover me from rain and wind, I wanted a new way to feel hooded and veiled. I wanted to be quiet, silent, warm.

I put my phone down, and then walked away from it. I silenced the ringer, changed the settings to not show the numbers of comments unanswered, and I remembered what it felt like to be unreachable.

And then, in this unreachable state, I rested—not knowing that I would never be the same.

(to be continued)

transformation. part one.

I am fascinated by life cycles, transformation, changing from one into another, shifting shapes and forms into something better, cleaner, finer. The idea that if you work very, very hard in one stage, you will earn the next, a graduation of a lesser self into a higher one. Safer. Less predatory. I believed that action created station, that leaning forward created the next stage, the next swift climb into a cushioned space, noise blunted and sweet.

Endurance was essential. Never letting up; the trying was the way to reach the elusive place of peace. When I became tired, it was a weakness, a thing to be healed, strengthened, fortified, all so I could keep trying to be well, keep doing the thing that made me tired, ill, unwell.

When I was somewhere in my late 30’s I became very, very tired. I was sick all the time, a rash on my skin, pale and pregnant feeling, without proof I was growing anything in my body except weariness. I went to the doctor, thinking it was mono, the long slow illness of fatigue and loss of normal. A blood test revealed a low thyroid, very low in fact, how am I still functioning they asked me? I wasn’t, I just hadn’t stopped trying.

After medication and further blood tests showed I was now healed, all well, I still was not. I slept, rested, napped and lay through each day, and asked to test my blood again. Again, the tests were normal, but I was not; something was not right. For many months, and maybe a year, tired and still a rash, now and again showing up–an unknown stigmata, a morse code of attention. I did not know it was wheat slowly weighing me to the ground, my immune system fighting and fighting; trying to be well, while I kept doing the thing that made me sick. Soon, my joints began to ache, swell, keep me awake at night, my head hurt, my skin felt tight and stretched, and always, always so very tired.

When the idea that this was a food allergy, an autoimmune response to a sweet and savory poison I was eating every day, the suggestion was to stop, just for a week, and then eat it again. The eating it again was a birthday cake, 7 days after none, and that night, the rash came to celebrate.

It would seem simple, then, just to stop, but it was not. There was another year, maybe two, of debate, argument, struggle, followed by a quiet acceptance and a new way of living, not chosen, but necessary. I missed so much, I yearned and grieved my not-normal-ness. Slowly, I began to feel better. What I had consumed was no longer consuming me.

I began a job a few years after this recovery, a new stage, the next stage for me in my career, and endurance was essential. When I became tired, I persevered, that weakness un-allowed; I kept doing the thing that made me tired, ill, unwell, always trying to do it better. When I became burned out, I kept trying, trying to find the cure, the wellness as elusive as the riddle of my earlier illness, and because I did not know the cause I kept doing the thing that was making me sick, burned out. Soon, my fatigue turned into lethargy, my head hurt, my heart ached into dullness, and I no longer cared about healing. I no longer cared. I wanted escape, to be let out of this never ending spin of trying another way to work in a job that was like the bread I used to be able to eat, and could no longer tolerate.

When a butterfly lays an egg, she does so on a leaf that will be its first food, the hatching of it creating such an appetite, the resting place needs to be its first sustenance. The caterpillar is born, with its first and only purpose to consume; it eats and eats and eats its way through each day, inching along branches and leaves, stringing itself on invisible threads to new trees, new sources of green and growing nourishment. As it grows, its skin becomes tighter, and it sheds, up to four and five times, it’s exoskeleton left behind, as it inches again, ever expanding. The last shedding is done higher up, sometimes under the leaf that fed it, hidden and hung by the silken tie it created itself, it spins, alone and quiet, and for a moment it could be seen as an unwell caterpillar. But thats not it, is it? It isn’t unwell, it is unbecoming.

When I learned this, I understood something I did not know before, the consumption was the cause, and the illness; what I had consumed, was consuming me.

(to be continued).