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The Myth of the Caterpillar, a Metaphor of the Spirit

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All my life, I’ve been told the narrative of the ugly caterpillar who, one day, turned into a beautiful butterfly. It’s a narrative that assumes that one’s value is based on other people’s perception, something to be achieved and admired. Myth?


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CJ Casciotta

Excerpt from: Get Weird: Discover the Surprising Secret to Making a Difference 


 

“The salvation of the world lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”  — Martin Luther King Jr.

Lately, I’ve been writing on my friend Mama Moo’s farm. Her real name is Lynn but she introduces herself as Mama Moo since that’s what her grandkids call her.

I met Mama Moo at church. I had heard her name around so once I finally matched a face to her peculiar moniker, I decided I would introduce myself, my wife and my daughter. With the split-second motility of a ninja, she loaded all of our arms up with an assortment of duck, chicken and turkey eggs from her farm and told us we just had to come and visit.

She and my wife exchanged numbers. A few days later, I came home to tales of adventures about an afternoon spent with our daughter on Mama Moo’s farm feeding chickens, studying bees and picking tomatoes, all while literally stopping along the way to smell the flowers—the ones that line her entire property.

None of us are promised the future of becoming a butterfly; we are promised the wonder of being a caterpillar.

So when I began itching for a quiet space to clear my head and chip away a little more at this book I was writing, I wondered if it wouldn’t appear too crazy to ask Mama Moo after church one Sunday if I could perhaps bum a spot on her porch for a day or two.

MORE CONTENT FROM CJ CASCIOTTA : ‘In My Day’ Series

When I arrived, I was instantly greeted by two dogs, five or six cows and colors and smells my eyes and ears received like an old flame, and of course, Mama Moo.

Lynn bought the farm at sixty-four years old. That’s not an aging joke by the way. She literally purchased a sizeable piece of workable farming property. Instead of withering to a halt, Lynn, recently divorced, decided to make good on a strange dream she’d had since childhood, purchasing twenty-four acres of fertile, tillable farmland.

You’ll find her out there every morning in rhythm with the sun’s song, working away, her pale face slightly veiled by a thick white mask of SPF 30. She sings. She listens. In the quiet moments in-between, she marries the two with prayer. She sows. She harvests. She shares.

Gosh, does she share. She delivers food to local restaurants and markets and anyone who even hints at wanting to get in on the goodness. She scolded me the first day I left for not taking enough home with me. The entire farm is one big laboratory, one giant experiment to see just how much wonder can be produced naturally and organically without any of our additives or attempts to manufacture it.

Not wanting to be scolded again, the second day I came ready. Before I left I walked through the garden, bucket in hand, picking fresh parsley, bell peppers, Japanese eggplant, oregano, squash, tomatoes and black-eyed peas—on top of two fresh cartons of eggs from a variety of resident birds.

To be honest, I was feeling a little disappointed. Not at the produce, but because the reason I came to the farm in the first place was to be inspired, and I was leaving my second day there without any major sense of newfound peace or revelation.

Mama Moo kept saying, “Everything here is a metaphor for the way the Spirit works.”

I kept searching for metaphors but all I got was a bucket full of vegetables and about two dozen bird embryos I was internally assessing for fat content.

As I weaved my way through the colorful rows, just moments before I had planned to leave for a meeting I was already late for, Mama Moo cried out, “Look! Come over here and look!”

I made my way over toward the center of the garden, where she was bent over looking at a tomato leaf.

“Do you know what these are?!” she exclaimed.

Tomato leaves,” I thought to myself, not really sure what the profound revelation was.

I peered closer toward the leaf her hand was carefully palming to discover a colorful creature resting peacefully on it.

It was bright lime green with brilliant pops of yellow and jet black. I stood there, all of a sudden arrested by both its complexity and beauty.

“This is the caterpillar that turns into a monarch butterfly,” she said. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

There was no need to debate this question, no time required to mull it over. The answer was an instinctual and involuntary “of course.”

There it was. The revelation. The metaphor of the Spirit.

All my life (and I’m assuming yours) I’ve been told the narrative of the ugly caterpillar who, one day, turned into a beautiful butterfly. Like Rudolph, it’s a narrative that assumes that one’s value is based on other people’s perception, something to be achieved and admired.

But this three-inch creature, this small, seemingly insignificant plump, green structure, complete with heart, brains, eyes and skin, broke through my thirty-plus years’ worth of false notions simply by existing, by doing what it was designed to do before quite possibly ever knowing what it was destined for. 

I’m sure there will be times as my daughter grows up when she doesn’t feel beautiful, when she’s made fun of or put down for not measuring up to someone else’s perceived value.

I still vividly remember getting picked on relentlessly for being short and scrawny all throughout grade school. It comes with the territory of being created uniquely.

The temptation will be to tell her the narrative of the caterpillar, that one day, things will turn out differently, that the facets that make her feel insecure now will someday fall away in a miraculous instant of metamorphosis.

But the problem is I’m thirty-two years old and I’m still short and scrawny. In the seasons when I lift weights, I tell people that I’m working my way up to “normal.”  These are the genetics I’ve been handed, the cards I’ve been dealt.

None of us are promised the future of becoming a butterfly; we are promised the wonder of being a caterpillar.

If my daughter is prescribed to wait for a moment in time when her worth will be transparent to all, she will miss out on the greater reality that her worth is not only present, but abundant and overflowing right now. Like all of us, the shape of her weirdness doesn’t have to fit into other people’s patterns. She doesn’t have to wait to be wonder-full. She doesn’t have to believe the myth of the caterpillar. 

No one does. No matter what age you are. No matter how weird or normal you feel.

CJ Casciotta

Author: CJ Casciotta

Yes, metamorphosis is miraculous. The cocoon is a catalyst for change (insight rarely comes, if ever, without solitude). But they are processes meant for you, not mandates from others. Your weirdness is a gift in the present tense.

The first thing I recognized when I visited Mama Moo’s Farm was the amount of land she had. As much of it was curated and cared for, there were still vast amounts of acreage left undeveloped. That didn’t stop the now sixty-something year old from telling me her vision for those spots, though. Every acre is accounted for in her imagination.

My linear, slightly anxious brain couldn’t help but ask, “How do you chip away each day, little bit by little bit knowing there is so much to do until it’s all completed?”

She just echoed what she’d been saying since I got there: “Everything here is a metaphor for the way the Spirit works.”

The fact that the farm is still technically unfinished doesn’t prevent it from being a gift to anyone who steps foot on its soil (and even those beyond). The fact that there’s still a greater metamorphosis to undergo doesn’t prevent the tomato plants from producing tomatoes, the chickens from laying eggs or the flowers from blooming their brilliant colors.

Thankfully, the value it creates isn’t up to us. It’s none of our business whether we consider it ready or not. It gives life because the farmer saw it fit that it should, knowing in the back of her mind that there is more to be done.

Take a cue from Mama Moo. Don’t fall into the trap that says you should board up your windows until you’re ready for the grand opening. You might recognize too late you’ve been building something for an audience that needed to see your process more than taste your perfection.  

There is no sadder lie than the lie that your value is contingent on the opinion of others. If that were the case, Wonka would have manufactured canned soup, Christ would have told safer stories and Martin Luther King Jr. might have quit while stuck inside Birmingham jail. To King, the “creatively maladjusted,” the imaginative nonconforming weirdos among us, are the ones who pull others toward the future they conceive, not the other way around.

If you came into this book feeling “creatively maladjusted” but not quite sure why, by now, I hope you’re convinced that you are indeed weird for a reason, that there is a method to your madness, that something in your humanity calls out to a force beyond your complete understanding, and calls you “set apart” amidst a sea of Same.

MORE CONTENT FROM CJ CASCIOTTA : ‘Totally Accurate History!’ Series

And yet, you’re not weird to stockpile attention or store up conceit. Rather, when we recognize that every soul comes preinstalled with unique worth, every human designed with a divine imagination, we discover the playing field has been leveled.

Yes, we’re weird, but we’re not weirder than anyone else.  And if that’s the case, we must tell the others!

They have to know that, like us, everyone has the opportunity to step into the unique shape of their soul, the curious cavern where their deepest purpose and passions lie.

Like us, everyone gets an invitation to belong in a world that would rather them buy in.

Like us, they get to leave Misfits Anonymous and join Misfits Unanimous!


 

This article appears as an excerpt from the book Get Weird: Discover the Surprising Secret to Making a Difference. Get it here.