Ten-year old Ann is playing outside on her family’s patio. There’s a bush at the edge of the patio with a funny-looking hanging sack attached to it. Ann watches as the sack seems to swing back and forth on the branch.
After some time, the sack breaks off the limb and falls on the patio, rolling and jumping about on the slate. Ann stoops to look at the fallen sack. Then she runs purposefully into the house . . . and a minute later back out onto the patio with a pair of scissors in her hand. Ann picks up the sack, holds it gently, and begins to carefully cut open the sack length-wise. When the opening she makes spreads wide, out flies a beautiful creature, deep orange in color with black markings. Working its wings, it rises in the air, as though taking off, and then . . . crashes to the ground.
A look of horror on her face, Ann starts screaming for her mother. “Mommy! Mommy!” she shrieks, “come help me.”
Her mother races out to the patio, scared that Ann is hurt, to find Ann safe and sound, though sobbing, and a beautiful butterfly dead on the patio. Taking her daughter into her arms, Ann’s mother looks around and sees the butterfly, the sack with its opening, and the scissors.
Mom calms Ann, “It’s okay, sweetheart. I see what happened. With your big heart, you thought whoever was inside the cocoon was trapped inside and was struggling to get out. You didn’t want to see it suffering, so you found a way to help it out. But there’s an important thing you didn’t know – all that movement of the sack is really the way the butterfly strengthens its wings so it has the ability to fly and sustain its flight. When you cut open the cocoon to free it, you actually interrupted its strengthening exercises. That’s why it crashed to the ground … its wings just weren’t ready.
Ann relaxed a bit into her mother’s comforting arms in response to her calm voice, her understanding what happened, and her knowing that Ann didn’t hurt the butterfly on purpose. Still crying, though, Ann looked at her mom and moaned, “But I killed the butterfly, Mommy!”
Her parent acknowledged, “Yes, the butterfly is dead, sweetheart. But you didn’t mean to hurt it. You didn’t mean to kill it. You didn’t understand. It was an accident. What if you tell the butterfly that you’re sorry . . . and then you and I will bury it?”
“Okay, Mommy. Come with me?” Ann climbed out of her mom’s lap and went over to the butterfly. She lay on her belly on the patio with her eyes very close to the butterfly. “I’m so sorry, beautiful butterfly. I thought you were trapped. I thought you were trying to get out. I felt so sad for you. I wanted to help you get free. I didn’t know what was really happening. I really didn’t know you would die. I won’t do that ever again. I promise.”
Ann and her mom buried the butterfly, said a prayer for it, and sat together in silence for a bit before going hand-in-hand back into the house to prepare for dinner.
Living in today’s culture, in which people are so afraid of feelings, sadly the usual response to other people is the equivalent of cutting open the cocoon.
Are you like Ann? Do you feel such compassion for the struggling and suffering of people in pain that, without realizing it, you do something to stop their pain . . . and in so doing, interfere with the development of their deep strength?
Sometimes the best use of our power is to be silent and still. . . and to allow what is occurring to unfold naturally. This is true with butterflies. This is true with midwives assisting in a birth. This is true with our journeys of healing and becoming our deepest selves.
It takes being able to go through your own pain. It takes being able to utilize your pain for healing and growing. It takes trust, and being able to take leap after leap of faith . . . in behalf of yourself, in behalf of others, and in behalf of our world!
NOTE : I heard this story years ago. I don’t know who first wrote it or told it. Whoever that was, I give them thanks.
© Copyright 2009 by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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