At the end of the school year, my daughter in junior high released butterflies with her science class. Then, the teacher gave her two caterpillars to take home and watch as they developed in the beautiful circle of life. Within a few weeks, she was tired of them and so, as is often the case with parents, the responsibility became mine. And for some strange reason, the caring of the butterflies became deeply personal to me.
For the first few weeks, the two black caterpillars grew bigger and gnarlier – almost hairy – as they roamed in their little plastic container that had a paper-towel lining the top. My daughter assured me that her teacher said that, “yes, there would be plenty of oxygen, food, etc. and soon, the first little caterpillar attached itself to the paper towel and became a chrysalis.” (Surely I am getting some of the scientific words and concepts wrong and I beg pardon for that as I am not a scientist, but a reader of Eric Carle’s, The Very Hungry Caterpillar – so for all I know, these guys should be eating “one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one watermelon,” etc. 😉).
The second guy roamed around for about a week more, but by the time he went to form into a chrysalis, the paper towel had begun to mold and he couldn’t find a place to attach. It seemed that he became frantic, because one day, he scooted over to the hanging chrysalis and began to shake the other guy very vehemently (I know this sounds weird, but so it was). I realized that he was probably going to kill them both, so, I quickly wet a second paper towel and gently opened the plastic cup and began to prod the caterpillar with it so that he would leave the first one alone. Amazingly, it worked and he came over and attached to the second paper towel as the first chrysalis hung precariously by a very thin thread and rested on the gunk in the bottom of the plastic cup. After the second formed into a chrysalis, I followed some internet research and prayerful meditative thoughts and carefully moved them both into a mason jar where they both had more room to hatch.
After about another week, on a very beautiful sunny Saturday morning, I looked over at the mason jar and noticed a bunch of blood on the paper towel below (which was amazing really see Moses 6: 59-60). The first butterfly had emerged! I had once read a story about a boy who tried to help a butterfly emerge out of a cocoon (which btw, I have learned that butterflies emerge from chrysalis and moths from cocoons, but I digress). The story goes – And he sees the butterfly struggling. So trying to help it, he uses some scissors to cut a hole to help the butterfly to get out. As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand. But this never did happen and the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. The butterfly, you see, was SUPPOSED to struggle. In fact, the butterfly’s struggle to push its way through the tiny opening of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never, ever fly. Sometimes the good intentions hurt the butterfly.
So, you see, I left that butterfly alone until it had detached itself from the paper towel and was moving around in the bottom of the mason jar. And then, I had such an amazing experience with it as I helped it out and then let it go into the world. This type of butterfly was called a Painted Lady. It was so beautiful – it was truly the miracle of life! It grabbed onto my hand and we just stared at each other for a while. Later, I hoped as it flew away, that it would be able to have a lovely life (of 6-20 days) and not be gobbled up right away by some animal. Again, those who know much more than I will find that surely I have done something wrong in my upbringing of this butterfly – oh well, what can I do? But the beauty and joy of that day stayed with me for several days.
I figured that the second one would be in its chrysalis for at least another week.
Within a couple of days, my junior high daughter got into a bike accident and got a concussion and banged up her face. Thankfully she is doing much better, but on that same day of the accident, the second one emerged early. And this one had emerged well before it had finished forming. So the first half of the body was out, but the other half was in, and it was thrashing around desperately trying to get out – for hours!
So, there I am, caring for my poor daughter, and my poor butterfly. Checking on both, doing anything I can think of for both. I spent more time on my daughter of course, but my husband joked around with friends that I had become a butterfly physician, and my oldest daughter very astutely asked, “Mom, are you putting your emotions and worries about helping [your junior high daughter] into trying to help and heal this butterfly?” Yes. Yes. I was.
I tried to help in anyway I could as the butterfly fell out of the chrysalis into the bottom of the mason jar, half formed. I googled, I followed suggestions and intuition. Nothing I did seemed to help. My husband kept saying, “let it go!” He was probably right, but I just couldn’t give up on the little guy. It grabbed onto my hand like the first one and we looked at each other for a while. We kept thinking it had died, but then, it would defy the odds and start moving again. Finally, it began to get desperate and thrashed about like it had when it was a caterpillar. I did what I could to help it reattach and get comfortable, and it calmed and miraculously lived for a while longer, until finally, now, it is truly dead. I want to bury it in the flower patch in our home.
I’ve been thinking over the last day or so about life. For some, it is so so beautiful, like the first butterfly. For others, like the second, so desperately tragic! Without a view of Eternity, I cannot imagine how people make sense of it all. How can some who are like the first butterfly look at those like the second and think “too bad for them, but I’m good”? Or “this is my life” and give no thought to the second. Or worse, deny the hope of God, Justice, or an Eternal Reward. There cannot be only this life – the law of justice that dwells inside the human heart demands more!
It reminds me of an idea from a talk, given years ago by then Elder Boyd K. Packer called, The Play and the Plan (from a CES fireside, May 7, 1995) in which he stated,
The plan of redemption, with its three divisions, might be likened to a grand three-act play. Act I is entitled “Premortal Life.” The scriptures describe it as our First Estate. (See Jude 1:6; Abr. 3:26-28) Act II, from birth to the time of resurrection, the “Second Estate.” And Act III, “Life After Death or Eternal Life.” In mortality, we are like one who enters a theater just as the curtain goes up on the second act. We have missed Act I. The production has many plots and subplots that interweave, making it difficult to figure out who relates to whom and what relates to what, who are the heros and who are the villains. It is further complicated because you are not just a spectator; you are a member of the cast, on stage, in the middle of it all!
We progress or we are held back in life within the limits imposed by spiritual and natural law which govern all the universe. We sometimes wonder, if the plan really is the great plan of happiness, why must we struggle to find fulness of it in mortal life?
If you expect to find only ease and peace and bliss during Act II, you surely will be frustrated. You will understand little of what is going on and why it is permitted to be as they are.
Remember this! The line “And they all lived happily ever after” is never written into the second act. That Line belongs in the third act when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right. The Apostle was right when he said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19.)
Until you have a broad perspective of the eternal nature of this great drama, you won’t make much sense out of the inequities in life. Some are born with so little and others with so much, some in poverty, with handicaps, with pain, with suffering, premature death even of innocent children. There are the brutal, unforgiving forces of nature and the brutality of man to man. We’ve seen a lot of that recently.
Do not suppose that God willfully causes that, which for His own purposes, He permits. When you know the plan and purpose of it all, even these things will manifest a loving Father in Heaven.
I will leave you to study the whole talk (which is really so lovely) and say finally, that at the end of the day, there is no justice in this life, no way to make things right, or whole, or fair, without the Atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. No social justice of our time will give back justice to the Slaves, or the Jews, or the Native Americans, or any number of injustices and atrocities that the agency of men and women in this world has committed. Please understand – we should teach and talk about those injustices so that history will not forget, we we should also always remember that real justice for life’s inequities and unfairness will come for them and for us through Jesus Christ. What a blessing – a glorious truth that gives me hope everyday.