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The Butterfly Effect
A caterpillar is meant to spend most of its early life on the leaf upon which it was born. But even caterpillars can be liberated from a predetermined fate. And so it was that on one autumn day, an ensemble of unique larvae serendipitously came to rest on a Rock. It provided the growing caterpillars a sanctuary where they could safely grow and live together.
Larva had been brought to this spot for many years by various means. Some were carried to the Rock by a gentle breeze and others by violent tsunami winds. Some had even narrowly eluded death. One larva had been dropped from the mouth of a hummingbird en route to feeding its young, while another had fled the laboratory of a curious entomologist. One had crept off field flowers picked by a hopeless romantic; still another had fallen off a birch uprooted by heavy rains. Each caterpillar had a unique story to tell of how it had become anchored to the surface of this particular boulder.
A lone butterfly was seen hovering over the Rock. This butterfly wore a checkered bowtie. “I looked like all of you once,” he called down to its newly arrived residents. “I, too, was ambitious and impressionable. This place helped me acquire the skills needed to live in this complex world,” the sage butterfly told the caterpillars who lay huddled together in their new home, listening intently to his wise words as he prepared to tell his life story.
“As I grew, I realized this Rock, for all its glory, would not be where I would find my wings.” The butterfly paused and took a moment to make eye contact with each member of his audience. “By all means, I’m not trying to say that you should rush to leave. There is nowhere else in the world like this Rock. I tell you this with the utmost of confidence; during all my travels I have not found such a wondrous pocket of liveliness and youthful energy.”
The butterfly enjoyed sharing his knowledge and experience with youth. His pristine yellow wings fluttered with passion for this cause. The larvae that sat grouped in the circle all dreamed of one day acquiring elaborate wings like his. For now they were satisfied when their questions and patience were rewarded with edible leaves, and they nibbled gratefully.
“I was very confused when I left the Rock and inched out into the world. I didn’t know what I was looking for, or if I would ever have wings. I crawled for days on end with the intention of claiming a new place to call home where I could curl up into a pupa.
My journey brought me to a dim grove. I spent long days trying to find my bearings and worrying about my future prospects. It was during this moment of weakness that two crows swooped down upon me, grabbing me on opposite ends and stretching me almost beyond my limits. I was powerless as they dueled over who would claim me as their prize. Just as I was about to resign myself to this tragic ending, I heard a bellowing clap. A man wandering the grove noticed my plight and made the noise that startled the birds. My antagonists mutually released their grip and fled the scene.
My savior told me his name was Simon. Simon was a tall, gentle creature who scooped me up in my fragile state and carried me squarely in the palm of his hand. He strode with confidence, easily navigating the path out of the woods. Simon knew of the existence and traditions of our society on the Rock. I found it easy to open up to him and to share my longings about furthering my learning in order to produce wings that would reflect my true potential. I confided in him my one true fear—being alone in the dark during the upcoming pupa stage of my development.
Simon assured me that I would survive the metamorphosis ritual that was rapidly approaching. He placed me in a comfortable jar in his private study, a place where he would sit for hours on end buried in various books and encyclopedias. When my time came, I enveloped myself in silk. My movement was restricted by the confines of my cocoon. Simon read aloud from the various texts that lined the walls of his library. He shared his vast knowledge of literature and the arts. The constant stimulation of his voice helped me overcome my fear of darkness. One day, Simon recited an excerpt from Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave:
’Is a resident of the cave (a prisoner, as it were) likely to want
to make the ascent to the outer world? Why or why not? What
does the sun symbolize in the allegory? And now, I said, let me
show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened…’
Plato’s elaborate metaphor for the barriers blocking mankind from fulfilling its utmost potential inspired me as I lay motionless in my silk prison. I struggled and flexed my every muscle until the silk tore at its seams. I remember the sound vividly, as well as the tingling sensation induced by reveling in light for the first time in weeks. I remember Simon applauding me, praising the color and texture of my new wings. He removed the lid from the jar, allowing me to stretch my newfound wings.
Flight was pure rapture. With wings came endless possibilities. As Simon beamed at me like a proud father, I flew tentatively onto the tip of his finger. The time had come for us to part ways. He gave me this bowtie as a gesture of friendship. With his encouragement, I flew out the open window into a new world of possibilities.”
The student caterpillars were visibly moved by the sage butterfly’s lecture.
One striped caterpillar in the circle arched its back in the hopes of being called on to ask a question, and was acknowledged, “Did you ever miss our Rock after you were gone?” he asked quietly.
“Oh, every day. It was the first place I ever called home. I try to come back whenever I can to check up on all of you. You have important roles to play in the future. Never doubt that,” the butterfly replied.
“But we’re insects in a world of men. What difference could we ever possibly make?” questioned a small caterpillar seated in the circle. “What good can we possibly due if we are chained to this place?”
The butterfly smiled before responding. “It’s been theorized that the flap of a butterfly’s wings can alter the course of a tornado. If one butterfly can prevent a natural disaster, imagine what you are all capable of if you unite and flap your wings in unison.”