It was one of the first days of spring when a butterfly appeared in our forest. She was so charming in her vibrant blues, yellows, and blacks that everyone wanted to be close to the butterfly. In order to attract her for a chat, the trees displayed their most beautiful leaves and flowers to the butterfly, but to no avail. Eventually, the butterfly flipped her elegant wings through our forest, approaching a select few to make conversation. In a soft, sweet voice the butterfly asked if we, the young trees of the forest, would like to hear her story. I was one of those few chosen to listen.
“You know, I wasn’t always like this,” began the butterfly. “I used to creep on the ground instead of flying in the air. I used to have gloomy colors and obnoxiously long hair instead of these lovely colors and elegant wings.”
It was really hard for me to believe that the butterfly had ever been in the situation she was describing. I am sure the other fellows in our group were also surprised to hear this, but none of us wanted to interrupt the flow of her beautiful words.
“My situation back then troubled me, indeed. Why was I doomed to get smashed under the feet of others? Why was beauty innate to other creatures while ugliness was my fate? Dissatisfied with my situation, I wanted to change, dreamed to wake up into a new day, desired to breathe a fresh life. My creeping ugly body did not match my spirit within.”
At this point, I couldn’t hold my breath anymore, and asked: “So, what did you do about it? Was it then that you turned into this beautiful state?” The butterfly reacted most unexpectedly to my question. She neither smiled nor gave a humble answer. Without even changing the expression on her face, as if she hadn’t heard me, she continued: “I couldn’t do anything about it.” Then she stopped. You know how long intermissions like this can feel. After a few seconds the butterfly took the word again seriously, as if she had a duty to tell her story, rather than an urge to praise herself.
“In that desperation, I decided to bring all this to an end. I slowly climbed a high tree. From that height, the scene looked very different. I was able to observe things just like the birds. I had found a security that I could never find on the ground. A perfect day to initiate my change. If I wanted to be revived anew, I needed to die first.”
We weren’t expecting to hear such sentences from this unique guest in our forest. Why was she telling us all this anyway? We were all young trees looking forward to our bright futures. The gloom in her words veiled her beauty, and eclipsed our interest in listening to her. But observing the change in our facial expressions, the butterfly continued:
“And slowly, I started tying the rope that I carefully made myself, and rendered myself to the hands of the wind. And just like I had predicted, things started changing very quickly as I descended towards the ground. I realized something that I had never thought before: I belonged to someone who did not want me to perish like this. It was as if time suddenly stopped, and I had a chance to communicate with my Owner. I was ashamed of what I had done, and asked for a second chance, which was given to me. Then I came to find myself hanging from the tree.”
I was thinking that the butterfly was going to conclude with “hanging from the tree in this vibrant beauty.” Astonishingly, there was more to the story of how she gained this beauty. My interest started to build up again, and I observed the same curiosity on my friends’ faces.
“In my anguish and shame, I started covering my body. I wove a small tent around myself. As such, I was alone in my darkness, away from the insults, from the harassments, and from myself. During my retreat, I tried to re-evaluate things and thought about positive ways to change. After a while, I decided to rid myself of my cocoon and do something. But there was one hurdle: I was hanging down in the middle of the air, covered with a genuinely woven house. I had to undo the excellent job I had done, but it wasn’t easy to tear my silken prison apart.
“As small pieces of the house were torn and as I was able to glimpse the daylight, I tried even harder to free myself. When the hole I made was large enough, I squeezed myself through. It was then that I saw my new self, reflected in the puddle below me and gave the most heartfelt praise to my Owner.”
Thus concluded the butterfly’s story of change. She even gave us admonitions about positive ways of making changes in our lives and in ourselves. She also talked about how potent our bodies are in facilitating the process of change.
All this was wholeheartedly embraced in our forest by the young trees, including me at the time. Why? Because we were in the same place where we were born; so we wanted to do something about it. We were all inspired by the butterfly’s story and decided to mobilize ourselves. Even the peaceful nights that used to be filled with the rhythmic voices of crickets were now filled with the whispers of our discussions on how to enact this fundamental change.
No wonder the old trees found this activity among the young outrageous and inappropriate. They thought that we were trying to achieve something against our nature. The time spent on these efforts was regarded as a waste. The old trees first tried to warn us against our “hallucinations,” but it turned out to be a fruitless effort. Then the old trees threatened to block our sunlight by covering us from above. This, too, became a wasted effort when the old trees realized they were engaging in sanctions that would kill their young ones instead of changing their minds. In the mean time, our ideas caught the attention of the newer generations. Upon hearing the whole story regarding the butterfly and our efforts to change, they too joined us in that desire to mobilize. So eventually the old trees decided to wait and see what would happen. After all, we were simply trying to imitate the butterfly.
Ever since that spring when the butterfly shared her story, we all covered ourselves with as many leaves as possible, similar to the cocoon of the butterfly. We were hoping that when the winter winds blew those leaves away, our mobilized selves would come out, just like the flight of the butterfly. We persistently covered ourselves this way year after year, but neither our roots became feet, nor did our branches transform to wings. Eventually, we realized that we were only getting older and that we were wasting our time. No one was out there anymore to advise us, either, because the butterfly had died that same spring, and the older trees shunned us because of our stubborn foolishness.
Once young trees, now experienced and mature, we decided to talk about the failed plan that was supposed to lead us to change. This time, instead of reciting the misleading story of the butterfly, we were going to talk about why this had happened to us and how we should advise our young. We started by analyzing the cautions of the old trees. Although we were not fully able to understand the wisdom behind the words of the elders, we could feel that they carried some implicit good in them.
As our voices undulated in the air, one of the migrating birds heard this talk and made a swift landing near our place of discussion. She quickly started to talk: “You know, we also had a problem among our young, but it was in the opposite direction. They wanted to quit traveling and stay in one place. We even lost some of them last winter when they decided not to migrate.” The unexpected interruption by the bird evoked other questions in our branchy minds. Why was this problem always occurring with the young? And why did they fancy a nature opposite to their own?
We couldn’t come to a conclusion. But one day, a short time after the discussion with the bird, we witnessed a mobile tree and a stationary bird. The tree was being carried behind a huge animal that was making a horrible, obnoxious noise. This was an animal we had never seen. To our surprise, the two Men who were riding the animal had captured a bird and somehow made her into a stationary bird that could constantly stand on the walls surrounding their home. Neither the mobile tree nor the stationary bird induced joy in the forest.
The mobilization of the trees and the stationing of the birds continued until one day when there were hardly any trees and birds left. Something was terribly wrong because none of this brought any good to our forest. The few remaining trees wanted to stay where they were born, and the few remaining birds wanted to fly.
On a once breezy and warm, but now unusually hot spring day, a butterfly appeared in the place where our forest used to be. She carried a poetry book she had composed. As the butterfly voiced her yearning for the glorious trees in the land and the soaring birds in the skies, tears of regret filled our eyes. And her verses of nostalgia ended with a prayer:
Oh the Unchanging One despite the transients,
Oh the Eternal One in the face of all mortals,
Oh the Creator of all animals that are now only in the tales,
Resurrect nature, we implore with our silence.
Seth Mette has a PhD in Aerospace Engineering and is currently working as a postdoctoral fellow at West Virginia University. He has a special interest in psychological fiction.