Molly, alike any self-respecting eight-year-old, had her own struggles. In fact the previous night had been fraught with worries about her studies, anxiety about her school friends and anger and frustration with her parents.
And so it came to be that this, especially patient, eight-year-old was sitting with her picnic breakfast in her lap watching the cocoon she had studied for so many days. She ate and waited, motionless. After an hour or so (her nature books had told her that this would be The Day), the cocoon started to wobble. After what seemed an age a scratching sound was heard and eventually a small hole appeared. The hole got very slowly bigger and then bigger still but with what seemed a disproportionate amount of effort.
We all remember from childhood the importance of the story of the butterfly. More than any other fact of natural science we cherished this story – the story of possibility, of potential, of opportunity. That one day we too, with the right skills and patience, could open our wings and fly. That we might be beautiful, extraordinary… But no one told us the story of the struggle of that caterpillar.
Eventually he heaved himself free of the cocoon, fell, stretched his wings, flew, faltered, spread them again and then took flight, landing on the nearest flower. Molly imagined his elation, his confusion. She ran home to tea, to bed and dreams of the magnificent pinks and purples of the butterfly’s wings. But when she woke she was preoccupied with the sense of helplessness at having watched the butterfly struggle and vowed that if she saw another one she would do all that she could to help it.
Several days passed before she came across another cocoon and, when she saw it move and start to make a small hole, she took a blunt pencil and taking great care not to damage the butterfly, she helped to enlarge the hole. She sat back feeling satisfied and proud of herself. Sure enough, the butterfly, with apparent ease and comfort, pushed first its head and then wings easily out of the hole. It fell, spread its wings, faltered… then flapped helplessly on the grass, desperately trying to regain its composure for flight. Molly helped to flip it over, she tried to help it get airborn but nothing worked. She wondered if there was something different about this butterfly, maybe its wings hadn’t developed properly.
And then the penny dropped. She looked horrified. She had caused this. Of course, the whole purpose of all the pushing was to strengthen the wings in preparation for flight. If making the hole bigger would really have helped of course the butterfly could probably have done that himself. There was nothing that could be done for this butterfly now – predators or big feet would ensure it met its maker. And soon. She ran home, distraught and threw herself under the great oak tree. She lay and sobbed and contemplated the nature of struggle and how it was a prerequisite for life, how we must all suffer before we can spread our wings and truly fly.