“What do you think happens inside a chrysalis?” That’s the question that is at the center of the 3rd story in the “Black Box” (minute 53) episode of Radiolab on my local NPR station today. It’s gruesome. If you open up a 3 day old chrysalis you find nothing resembling either a caterpillar or a butterfly. It’s just goo. Soup. You’d swear that what’s inside isn’t even alive. In fact biologists used to believe that the butterfly emerged from the dead shroud of the caterpillar. What happens in the chrysalis is “the big, fat, metaphysical, quasi-religious, semi-mystical, philosophical question” that has only recently begun to be fully understood.
From the 16th century people thought of metamorphosis in Biblical terms. “The old has passed away; Behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) It’s easy then to see how the caterpillar was seen as a metaphor for our sinful, broken, earth-bound bodies and how a butterfly was often seen as our soul, in its perfect form. But that kind of transformation presents “the big, fat, metaphysical, quasi-religious, semi-mystical, philosophical question,” namely, if we are transformed that much is it really us that goes to heaven?
Well, like with so many of the big, juicy questions, and by juicy I mean the gooey, unidentifiable as a life-form, caterpillar/butterfly question, enlightenment/scientific method/blahblahblah, and now we know that memories stored by a caterpillar make it through the goo and are remembered in the butterfly, the memory carried by some microscopic bit of caterpillar brain floating around in the goo. Even more recently it has been discovered that microscopic bits of butterfly are carried in the caterpillar; the interior wall of the chrysalis is lined with them, microscopic bits of butterfly, carried within the caterpillar body.
“Oh, how interesting and apropos of what exactly?” I hear you thinking. Well, here’s the thing. I’m feeling gooey. I’ve been through a great deal and I think I’m mid-transformation. I’m frustrated with my living situation and I don’t see a way to navigate it except to move somewhere else. The men I live with and presumably should be serving irritate me so much that I no longer engage with them unless I am forced to. I’d rather punch them in the throat most of the time. Clearly I’ve been here too long and I’ve learned that I am not well suited to training feral cats. I’ve been doing well at my job, finally. Money is starting to come in which is good because I owe the State of Idaho like a billion dollars in restitution and I need a decent car. Mine won’t last the year and is unsafe. At the same time I’ve been offered a job as a program coordinator for a community recovery center. It is a grant funded, part-time position with some interesting and desirable benefits and I’d have to figure out how I’m going to survive. The only way would seem to be to continue managing a recovery residence to keep a roof over my head.
It feels a bit like Providence wants to tip me in a particular direction and ego wants me to stay in the other. And all that makes me wonder what is to become of me?
So about the caterpillars. This stuff that we know now about metamorphosis, how caterpillar experience is carried forward into the butterfly and butterfly material is carried back into the caterpillar, makes me wonder what of my experience out in the big bad world will follow me into my new life, and what part of my new life is already with me.
Somewhere in AA literature is suggests that pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth, so I guess that means I’m growing. And I guess that’s good. But right now it’s all unidentifiable and gooey.