Jan 062012
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This paperweight sits on my desk as a constant reminder of the butterfly

I don’t like pink or floral. I am not big on hearts and I don’t like paisley. So why did I choose a butterfly to put at the top of my website?

It was no accident. I didn’t see it in a wordpress template and think “oh yeah, that looks nice”. I deliberately put a butterfly there (or, more accurately, I said to put it there and Husband did it). When we decided to redesign my website, the first thing I said was I wanted a butterfly. Preferably a swirly one (anyone who has seen me shop for anything, knows how much I enjoy my non-descript instructions like “I want a swirly one”, “I want a bright dark” or when shopping for cars “It has to be swoopy”).

So why a butterfly? They look pretty, they are often thought to be a physical representation of the soul. They are found throughout history and appear in many cultures, in art, in myths and legends. But that’s not it either. It isn’t because they’re popular. It’s because of what they go through.

A butterfly starts out life as an egg. It hatches and becomes a caterpillar. As the caterpillar grows and matures, it goes through a series of stages of growth (called instars). Near the end of each instar, the larva undergoes a process called apolysis, in which the cuticle, a tough outer layer, is released from the softer epidermis beneath, and the epidermis begins to form a new cuticle. At the end of each instar, the larva moults the old cuticle, and the new cuticle expands, before rapidly hardening and developing colour. At each stage, the caterpillar develops more markings on its skin, which will become the markings on its wings.

When the caterpillar is fully grown, it makes a button of silk which it uses to fasten its body to a leaf or a twig. Then the caterpillar’s skin comes off for the last time. Under this old skin is a hard skin called a chrysalis.

The caterpillar stays protected by this hard skin while it begins its final transformation. Sometimes this takes weeks, sometimes months. Its wings grow and when it is ready, it breaks through the outer skin and emerges. When the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it has to let its wings harden, dry and strengthen before it can fly. This can take a few hours, during which time the butterfly is extremely vulnerable.

Once its wings have dried and hardened, the butterfly can fly.

The butterfly goes through a metamorphosis from the egg to death. Constantly changing, constantly growing, constantly being marked. It isn’t one change, as is so often assumed, the butterfly goes through multiple stages of renewal. At each stage the butterfly is vulnerable. It has to hide, protect itself as it grows strong.

This is why I chose a butterfly. I am growing, and you are growing with me. We are constantly changing, constantly reinventing ourselves, in a constant state of renewal. Every experience we go through marks us, but we can control the colours those markings become. Each state is hard, we have to shed our skin to move forward. At each stage we are vulnerable, easy prey for those who seek to harm, to hurt, to hold us back.

But we must push forward, you and I, before we can fly.


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