I love butterflies. I love their colours, their shapes and patterns, and the way they flit from bright flower to bright flower. They seem unhurried, without a care in the world, here for the moment and then gone for ever. There is something delicate and ephemeral, about them, fluttering, drifting on the summer breeze, or resting in the warmth of the sun. Some butterflies last only a few days, their total life cycle as short as a month, while others last as long as a year, Red Admiral, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell can even hibernate over the winter in sheltered sheds and outhouses. But however long or short their lives will be, they all start as a tiny egg, maybe round, oval, or even cylindrical or ribbed, before hatching into a larva or caterpillar. Then, like ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ of the children’s picture book, all they do is eat, but perhaps not pickles or cheese or lollies or fruit – unless it’s rotting! Of the common British butterflies, Cabbage Whites predictably eat cabbage, Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshells eat nettles, and the Meadow Brown likes grasses. When they’ve eaten enough and grown enough, they form themselves into a pupa or chrysalis, and then their metamorphosis really begins. Everything changes, tissue, limbs, organs, all transform, wings develop, and at the end of it all, a beautiful, transient butterfly emerges.
Sometimes I can identify with the different parts of the butterfly’s life-cycle. There are days when all I want to do is sit like the egg on a leaf, and let the world go on around me. Occasionally I feel like the caterpillar, eating to fill that needy hole inside me. I often feel like the chrysalis, my aspirations and desires evolving, my character developing, my mood changeable, my body and mind maturing. At other times I feel a bit like the butterfly, squeezing out of my cocoon into a very scary world, fluttering damp wings, wondering if something is going to grab and consume me, and questioning whether I will be able to cope with all that is expected of me. But throughout all these inner transformations, I just ask and pray that I will become a better person; that I will learn to be more loving and compassionate, more patient and kind, and that eventually my inner self will be as beautiful as the emerging butterfly.