(What follows is a passage from my novel-in-progress. The protagonist had been visiting friends whose son suffered a life-threatening gunshot wound.)
As Claire walked home from the hospital in the warm slanting sun of late afternoon, a co-worker from the newspaper honked and waved. She glanced over and waved back. In that brief moment, her foot crushed the head of a plump iridescent green caterpillar. She stooped to look and burst into tears. Claire picked up the intact part of the caterpillar corpse and deposited it, with an apology, at the foot of an oak tree.
For the past year it seemed that the universe kept hammering home the message that life can change in a flash. A misstep on the sidewalk. A moment of inattention behind the wheel. A disgruntled coworker with a gun. The bursting of a brain vessel. A gush of blood in a ladies’ room. A sudden insight that it is time to leave. A knock at the door. A glance across crowded powwow grounds.
That evening she sat in her chair, lights off, pondering the life of a caterpillar. What does it need to do in order to carry out its life’s mission? Eat, stay out of trouble, and ultimately build a cocoon for itself. All a caterpillar can be is a caterpillar until it’s not a caterpillar anymore. That didn’t mean its life was easy. Maybe there are insufficient leaves of the right kind. Maybe a careless person steps on you, or a bird has you for breakfast. That’s it for this life. No lovely moth or butterfly will ever emerge.
Claire recalled a funeral service during which the pastor used a caterpillar metaphor, where the caterpillar has no idea it will transform into something entirely different and beautiful. She wondered if that wasn’t a bit presumptuous. How do we know that a caterpillar isn’t aware it will transform into a moth or butterfly? Maybe it knows, maybe it doesn’t. And really, what does anyone know about what’s coming down the sidewalk at them? All we can do is munch our leaves and try to stay out of trouble.
Change often seems to come in unexpected bunches and bundles.
February brought for me a serendipitous and sudden house sale, with an aggressive closing schedule, necessitating the need to rent an apartment, to say nothing of packing to move from a 3-bedroom home with too much storage into a 1-bedroom + “den” with modest storage space.
In the midst of this effort, my mother, after 104 years of physical and mental vibrancy, took a turn and died. She was ready, she was unafraid, so to grieve would be almost selfish. But ever since getting a cell phone with unlimited calling (when was that, anyway?), I had called her once or twice each day. Although I accept her passing, the thought of hitting “Mom” on the top of my phone favorites list crosses my mind most mornings.
Mom lived about 5 hours north, in small-town northwestern Minnesota. Since leaving home for college, my various vehicles have made hundreds of trips up through St. Cloud, past Little Falls, Motley (stop for smoked salmon at Morey’s!), Akeley, and Bemidji. Other than going up for her burial come spring thaw, the trips up that way will be few.
Our bodies respond to change with weariness. Our minds cope by seeking order or escape. Our spirits, if not crushed, can respond with freshness and creativity, transformed by new contexts and perspectives.
Change is inevitable. Let it open us to a greater beauty.