Yesterday, someone wise told me a story. I had actually heard it before. It’s a parable from a children’s book. Sometimes the most profound lessons stem from the simplest truths, don’t you think? It goes like this:
A little girl found a caterpillar in her back yard. She had just learned about metamorphosis in kindergarten. So, she picked it up, put dirt, leaves and moss in a jar, and placed it inside. She was careful to put holes in the jar’s lid. Then, every day, she watched the caterpillar eat and eat and then start to make its cocoon. For almost two weeks, the little girl watched the cocoon hanging from a twig—knowing that the fat, goofy-looking caterpillar was turning into a beautiful butterfly. She was mesmerized.
Finally, the cocoon began moving slightly. Then it really started swaying back and forth. The little girl began to get upset. She saw that the butterfly with struggling to get out. Even though her mother told her not to, she thought she should help the butterfly. So, she, ever-so-gently, poked a hole in the cocoon so the butterfly could fly away. She lifted the lid off the jar and waited. And waited. The butterfly stopped moving. Sadly, it died. The little girl cried and cried! She was beside herself. What did she do?! She was only trying to help. Why didn’t it work?!
She was distraught when her mother looked up information about metamorphosis and discovered that the only way an infant butterfly can physically fly out of the cocoon is by strengthening its wings. The wings get stronger through the process of struggling with the cocoon to break free. Only after a certain amount of time battling with the cocoon and building strength, can it fly away. Without the struggle, her wings are too weak and she’ll lay there and wither.
I guess some of you know where I’m going with this don’t you? No matter how hard it is to see during our pain, we need some of our struggles to build strength. Of course, I’m not talking about tragedies like tornados or childhood leukemia. Seriously, some things are beyond reason. But, I’m beginning to see that our every day struggles to find ourselves and to listen to our intuition, are incredibly important. Taking steps to take care of ourselves and to form healthy relationships can be hard. Who knew four years ago, when my husband left while our 2nd child was a baby, that it would turn out to be blessing for me. I’m SO much stronger and grateful now. I have more confidence, more patience, more spirit and drive. Perhaps I had to be on my own, to build myself up and find myself again. I still cater to my children’s needs—what single parent doesn’t?! But I’m also listening to, and honoring my inner voice. I’m writing fiction again. So, I’m working, raising my boys and trying to find time for work that pays AND my fiction. I’ve never felt more invigorated (and tired!). But that’s beside the point. Without my struggle, I wouldn’t have find myself or my courage. (I’m still working on flying, but I’ll get there someday.)
Conversely, if you feel like you’re the little girl watching someone you love struggle to fly—as I have found myself doing many times in my life—remember that it’s not always possible to help. If you’ve tried to help only to see someone fall back into old habits, remember that sometimes helping is enabling. Some need the struggle or need to hit bottom before they’ll be open to change.
It’s a good lesson for me, as I often want to help others instead of focussing on myself and my issues. And this past month I’ve been reminded again and again through some chaos and drama, that the only person who I can ever help and who I can ever change is myself. If someone in my life is struggling, especially with addiction or destructive behavior, I have to detach with love. Not everyone understands. And that’s okay.
Sometimes going through the struggle is the only way to find the will to fight…and hopefully find a way to soar above the problems.