Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tales for the journey: Caterpillar (Belief in yourself)

 This is a story about two caterpillars, who lived in a garden long ago.  Every day they wandered up and down the leafy stems and munched at the succulent leaves, and watched the butterflies flying overhead landing lightly on a twig, folding their wings against the rain or opening them to the sun.

The two caterpillars, Clara and Carl, did not have much to say to each other, for they were engaged in the process of eating, growing and becoming large enough to turn into butterflies.  Their friendship was a silent one, as they crawled and munched.  Carl wanted to become a truly wonderful butterfly.  He often thought about the strong and wonderful painted wings he would have when he was changed in the magical chrysalis.  Carl dreamed and dreamed until all he could see- all he could think about- were his dreams of his wonderful, painted wings.  His dreams were clearer when he kept his eyes shut, so he often hung there, replete with leaves, sleeping and dreaming of better things.

Clara was ashamed of being a caterpillar. She felt fat and furry and hated the fact that she must crawl on the ground while the others were already butterflies, fluttering in the sunshine. She wanted so much to fly, she often dreamed about it, and in her dream she flew effortlessly into the sky soaring and turning, visiting every flower in the garden.

She resented being a caterpillar so much and however much she ate, however hard she tried, she stayed a caterpillar. Every day she asked Carl to get out his magic mirror and she would look at herself in it.  Sure enough there she was, her own eyes and face, but the body of a caterpillar behind them.
It continued for a long time: Carl dreamed of being the biggest and brightest butterfly in the garden, and kept his eyes closed so that he could better see his dreams.  Clara begged Carl every day to show her his magic mirror so that she could see if there were any signs of her changing.  All the other caterpillars were changed into butterflies, but Clara and Carl were left still on the ground, munching and dreaming.

Then one day a grasshopper came and spoke to them.  He saw Carl’s magic mirror and he said: “Carl, may I look in our magic mirror?”

     Carl let him look. The grasshopper stared and stared as if he couldn’t believe his eyes, and went off without saying anything. Clara watched the grasshopper leaving them in such a hurry, and she looked into the mirror to see if there was anything wrong with it, but sure enough there was the same face the same eyes and the same caterpillar body.

Clara thought and thought about the grasshopper, and she decided to ask him what he had seen that had made him leave in such a hurry.

She found him sitting by a still pond.  “Grasshopper, what did you see in Carl’s magic mirror that made you leave in such a hurry?” she asked, but the grasshopper said nothing. He just stared into the still water of the pond.  Clara waited patiently for him to reply, but still he said nothing.

Then she looked into the pond and saw herself.  The same face, the same eyes - but there was something a bit different about her body.  What was it?  She looked closer. All along her trunk there were thin stripes of varying colours, instead of the usual furry green.  This made her feel afraid because she was not sure what colour she was any more.

She went back and took a look in Carl’s mirror and sure enough she was the usual furry green.  This made her feel a bit better, but she wondered and wondered- which mirror was right?  Were there stripes along her body, or was she furry green?
So she asked Carl: “ Carl, what colour am I?”
     Carl answered without opening his eyes, because he already knew, “You are a furry green. I am brown with yellow stripes of course, but then we are different.  You are green.”

    Clara knew that Carl was very proud of his stripes. He had often said that he was sure that when he passed through the chrysalis he would be a really bright colour, judging by his present beauty.

Very soon after that Carl’s body began to harden and change and he became set into his chrysalis shape.  Clara looked on this enviously, because she knew that when he emerged he would be gone and she would be alone.

She wandered about, munching the flowers and leaves, and one day she found herself by the still water once again.  The grasshopper was nowhere near, so she decided to have another good look. She stared and stared into the water and wondered about the stripes on her back.  They did not go straight along her back like Carl’s but in a kind of spiral around her as if she was wrapped up in something of which she could only see the edge.

Then one day Carl’s chrysalis began to wriggle and struggle, and out crawled a damp and bedraggled creature with Carl’s face and Carl’s eyes but with a large brown wing each side.  The new Carl sat in the sun for a while as Carla watched him and he gradually spread his wings.  They were brown with yellow blotches on them each side and he spread them joyously.
“Look at me!” he cried.  “Look at how fine my wings are!  I have waited so long for this! Now I can fly! I can fly!”

Poor Carla remained there on the ground, watching him fly and wishing that she could join him there in the sky. She was so lonely that she wandered about constantly, but was drawn again and again to the still water. In the glassy mirror of the water she examined the stripes along her back, that were now clear to be seen and maybe a little broader each day.

Then one day she realised that her body was wrapped in a bandage of some kind, seemingly made of thin tissue that was coloured at the edges.  She got the occasional glimpse of orange and yellow and a luminescent blue, which surprised her.  She wondered how she had come to be wrapped in this stuff, and what would happen if she tried to wriggle out from under it all and see what lay beneath.  How could she know what colour she was if she was wrapped up like that?

She became quite angry about all this and she wriggled and struggled with all her might, trying to release herself from the tissue that surrounded her.


While she was struggling the grasshopper came by and watched her. Then he said, “Carla: what are you doing?”
“I am trying to get rid of this stuff that is wrapped all around me.”
“Why do you want to do that?” asked the grasshopper.
“Because I want to see what colour I am.”
“Why do you need to know that?” asked the grasshopper.
“Because I want… all I want in the whole world is to understand why all the other caterpillars in the wood are now flying around happily and I am left here.  My body never changes like theirs have and I will never be a butterfly- never!” cried Carla, and she wept bitter tears and lay there by the still pool in despair.
The grasshopper looked at her with a wise and kindly look. “I think you can fly.”
“Don’t be silly!” said Clara. “Caterpillars can’t fly.”
     “Maybe you are not a caterpillar.”
“What do you mean, ‘maybe I’m not a caterpillar?’ ”
“ I think the tissue that surrounds you….. I think all that stuff is your own wings.”
    “Wings? I haven’t got wings, you stupid grasshopper!” and she crawled away into the wood, angry with the grasshopper, angry with the whole world for leaving her here alone in the wood without any companions, and without any hope.  She thought about Carl flying around with his beautiful brown and yellow wings and realised that he had never come to see her there alone on the ground, but she had stood by him all the time while he waited and longed to be a butterfly so much….. She had been his friend, why could he not be her friend?

She sat in the sun, watching the butterflies flying and wished that she could flap her wings like that, and wished that the grasshopper had been right, that she had wings, and that if she did this… and that… then she might…….

 Suddenly she was flying. She was soaring in the air and spinning around.  What had happened?  Was this a dream?  She landed carefully by the still pond and looked down at herself.  There, reflected in the pond, were the same eyes, the same face, but behind them the slim and beautiful body of the most beautiful butterfly she had ever seen.  Along her wings, (they were her own wings!) were colours of blue and yellow and orange, that made Carl’s furry wings look drab.

How had this been?  Why had she waited, with her wings wrapped around her, pretending she was still a caterpillar?  She had been a butterfly for a long, long time and did not realise it, because Carl’s magic mirror had deceived her.  But surely she had known, deep down in her body, that she was different from him, that she had been though her chrysalis long ago, and she was waiting for him to catch her up?  Why had she chosen to believe the mirror and not the signs in her own body?  Why had she never dared to fly before?

She suddenly felt stupid and foolish but filled with joy, and leaping into the air she soared upwards and upwards spreading her wings into the sun.

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