Red Admiral butterfly

When I was a little girl I peeled the skin off chrysalises. Not to be cruel you understand, but to help the trapped little creatures escape. I watched in revulsion and fascination as the ugly crippled insects struggled and writhed, silently willing them to stretch their crumpled wings and become the beautiful butterflies I so admired.

Needless to say, they never did. I was so sure when I watched the twitching, pulsing cases that the creatures needed my help. That they were desperately trying to get free, and that my intervention would hasten their escape to a life of dazzling aerobatics.

I am nearing sixty now, and I have only just reflected on this now odd-seeming behaviour. I keenly remember coming across these dried up little packets in my shed (or somewhere equally furtive) and being spellbound when they started to move. It seemed to me cruel to leave them struggling when I could surely help them. I now know, of course, that their struggle is a necessary part of their survival.

That without tensing and pushing and building up strength, the insect cannot hope to burst through its self-constructed shell. Nor could it possibly generate the force needed to pump life-giving fluid into those huge, diaphanous wings. No, there is a process. One which is no doubt painful, and at times the creature must long to give up. But oh, the reward!

To have spent a life earth-bound. Lumpen and obtuse. A day meant for merely gorging and resting. Until a final rest overtakes it. A defeat. An almost-death.

How it must have to still itself, surrender. Let a greater force take over. And with no knowledge of how long, perhaps eternal, this sleep will be.

And then, one bright day, its rebirth arrives. A new consciousness. The sense of limbs where there previously were none. The need to extend, to break out. Tentative at first, it tests its muscle. The elasticity of the shell is too tight to begin with. But little by little, over hours and days, it can feel a rent.

Air on limbs is an encouragement. Folds of some new body part slip free. Cooling, drying, they flutter a little in the breeze. And then the real effort begins. As each pulse sends life into the fabric, a huge, and colourful, and wondrous appendage is raised. And in raising it, the creature itself is lifted. At last two very beautiful, very fragile, but very powerful new limbs elevate the creature. High. Over ground and flowers and other things never before seen. To the sky. To the sun. To the future. Aloft.

And needing no human intervention. Only time. And patience.


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