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.

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).

collect.

There used to be a time, when some of us of a certain time, moved away from home, and called collect. There were operators then, mostly women in my memory, who would come on the line when you dialed 0, asking what you needed. A collect call, please. Connecting the call the operator waited while you listened in; a collect call, do you accept the charges? Once there was a yes, the line was open for the conversation and the operator left the call.

There is a time, for those of us from a certain time, when we stopped calling collect, and called direct. Our own phone, with our own long distance plan, and a way to pay the phone bill. That same time would find us talking about what we were doing, or going to do, instead of asking what we should do.

The shift from child to adult is the difference between paying the bill, or calling and expecting someone else to pay it. A way forward where the road becomes our own, and the way to get where we want paved by our answers instead of our questions. This same shift happens well into adulthood, when we have replaced or added to our parents other calls; to friends, work mates, siblings—what should I do, when should I leave, what will happen to me?

I wonder sometimes if those are all the ways we still call collect, still wait on the line while someone accepts the charges, the person on the other end paying for our unanswered questions, accepting the charge of our blame or disappointment when they give us advice we didn’t like, or don’t want to follow; when we don’t know how to stop asking.

What does it mean to call direct? To me it means to pay our own way with no operator interfering. It means to make the calls we can afford, and leave the phone in it’s cradle when we are growing from our question to our answer. It means picking up the phone when there is nothing expected except connection.

transfiguring.

I was a caterpillar who talked of butterflies. I could see them, winding through air streams and lighting buttercups to dance with their winged hellos. I watched them, forever lilting while I stretched and arched along the ground, ungrounded.

I was a caterpillar who dreamed of butterflies. The dip and draw of yellow dusted flowers, drunk on summer afternoons and the power of fluttering. I kept their company, underneath their dizzy days—did they remember being me? What it felt like to dream of flighted things and the tops of trees, while stopping at walls and rocks, turning back to find another way to inch ahead.

I was a caterpillar who lost the fuzz and fumble of life in dirt, who swung suspended in air filled with the possibility of wings. I am becoming something, quietness dissolving the gravity that held me from becoming what I always was. In the dark and dimness I am seeing for the first time clearly, the legs that held me earth bound lengthening to filaments of flight.

The way toward light and freedom also includes shadows and loss. To move past the ways of looping thoughts and weighted worries means losing the parts who believed that I could feel like I was flying, while staying earthbound. I was never going to reach the open sky by learning to crawl higher, I had to stop wanting to crawl.

Someday I will be a butterfly who forever remembers being a caterpillar. The two of us spinning into a twisted, lifted, lighted miracle.

fold.

Sometimes a cycle can end with the folding. Even though it feels like the winds are pulling away the basting from the cloth, when the rains soak the pinned edges, all waiting for the moment when the sun comes out, the wind dries, and clean corner meets corner.

So much of self improvement, self awareness feels like washing the same parts of us that keep getting wrinkled, the sitting still creating creases, the running and falling scuffed into stains we scrub—then hang back on the line to dry into a better brighter self on a string of other selves. The trying, followed by accepting, the endless spin cycle of being better—then the pinning in the sun showing things we didn’t see before, back down to wash again. Rinse. Repeat.

It isn’t the parts of you with lines and stubborn stains that need to rest, it’s the one who keeps taking them all down to wash again.

It is enough to fold when dry. Maybe that looks like staying quiet when provoked to guilt, looking away when a wind twisted word turned you sideways, or letting the pins of control fall out of your cracked hands. End the cycle, and fold.

you.

In so many ways I sought myself through other people, searching for someone to mirror back some understanding, acceptance, a place for me to rest for a few moments. Blending into another is hard to notice, hard to capture why I didn’t feel settled at the end of a shared day.

What I found was not what I intended; somewhere I had become the mirror, acting back what was given, shared, creating agreements and likeness where maybe there was none. I said things were okay that weren’t okay, because I wasn’t. I didn’t know what I was doing so I didn’t know why I was tense and tired. There are other words for this focus on the other; fawning, placating, pandering, people pleasing.

It takes energy to bend into ways you didn’t grow in, to mimic another’s preferences that aren’t your own means to be forever stretched and trying. Living outside your own self is surviving in a climate that you aren’t accustomed to, the thin air making it hard to fill your lungs with someone else’s share of oxygen.

It took me a very long time to understand that survival in any form does not feel good. If you have ever felt invisible, being seen seems worth the price of admission into a venue where for a moment or two, you belong. When you add technology, social media, texting and email, life can become a funhouse of possibility, the myriad ways to be seen and noticed revolving into a frenzy of shifting likes around the flickering fluorescent need that stays the same.

The need stays the same as you bend into ways to fill it, and it doesn’t ever work. There’s the truth; it doesn’t work because it wasn’t meant to work forever. Survival responses are born as a means to keep you alive, then. The same tactics, so necessary at the time, can keep you from living, now.

The best way to know why you do something is to stop doing it, even for a moment. Notice when you fight, leave, freeze and please. It could be the reason you are tired is because you have been doing it for so long. When you look back across your own life, you might see what helped you survive until now was never other peoples’ reflection; what brought you through these shifting floors and tilting hallways was you, always you.