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When I was about 6 years old I found a branch with at least 50 caterpillars living on it.  I lovingly collected them and put them in a not quite empty Folgers coffee can. I was enamored, and I stayed awake that night certain that in the morning I would open the can to a flood of butterflies.  As you can imagine, I was heartbroken the next morning, This was obviously going to be a much more involved process, so I gathered some leaves for my caterpillars to eat. I gave them some twigs to play on.  Once in a while I’d let them have a little sun or dribble some water into the can for them. I was a very dedicated etymologist and butterfly tamer.

For three days I repeated this ritual of throwing myself out of bed and running to meet my butterflies, only to be horribly disappointed that they were still caterpillars.  I didn’t want anyone to know my experiment was failing, so I never told anyone about the can full of caterpillars under my bed. Nature, however, is a tattle tale, and eventually a not quite empty coffee can full of caterpillars develops its own unique perfume, and the jig was up. What I was doing, it was explained by my mother, who sat on my bed holding the festering can while trying not to breathe, was not how it worked.  I couldn’t coax nature to do my bidding with some twigs in a coffee can. What I was doing was bad for the caterpillars, many of which had stopped moving, obviously because they were exhausted from working to become butterflies and needed to rest. After a few tears and a promise not to hoard living creatures under my bed ever again, I released my little captives back onto the tree from which I had harvested them.

The caterpillar experiment taught little me a few important lessons.  It taught me that you can’t take something out of its true nature, its home, and expect it to thrive and be what it is meant to be.  It needs the symbiosis of the world to which it belongs. It taught me that it was greedy and selfish to take the caterpillars in order to have butterflies from myself.  They did not, and could not belong to me. It taught me that, in trying to force the caterpillars to be what I wanted them to be I was ensuring they never would. Because I was trying to force them to go against their natural chrysalis I was slowly killing them, depriving myself and the world of the butterflies they would have become on their own.  

Think about this for a minute.  If it’s a lesson on caterpillars, it’s a lesson on people.  It’s a lesson on love. It’s a lesson on life. It’s a lesson on self worth and the stress we put on ourselves to be what we, by nature, were not meant to be.  A short after releasing the caterpillars back to their world there were butterflies. All I had to do was be patient and trust the world around me to do what it’s been doing all along.

My question for you today is this. What chrysalis are you holding back, and where are you hiding your caterpillars?


Go now, set your butterflies free!

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