This summer, it seems that my backyard was ground zero for the reproductive efforts of the Anise Swallowtail. From June until only recently, they could be spotted daily fluttering about the maple tree just outside my living-room window. At one point, I gave up my parsley and dill plants to the half dozen or so Swallowtail caterpillars who had taken up residence and were vigorously chowing down and fattening up on my herbs.
I have always loved butterflies. Who doesn't? There is no more magical story to a child than that of metamorphosis -- the changing of the often homely caterpillar to a lifeless dry chrysalis and from that to a gorgeous winged creature who floats on the breezes. Throughout history, butterflies have been used in symbolism to indicate transformation and rebirth. For Christians, the butterfly's three steps of metamorphosis are clear reminders of spiritual transformation. The caterpillar's incessant crawling and chewing reminds us of our mortal obsession with physical needs. The chrysalis (cocoon) resembles a tomb and the empty shroud left behind by Jesus. The butterfly itself represents resurrection into life free of material concerns.
I can't say that I am free from material concerns, but from the time I began seeing the Swallowtails in June, I knew they were there to remind me that this was a beginning as well as an ending. Each step forward in our lives means loss and leaving behind. Just as the seed must die so that the plant can grow; so our old life becomes the fertile plain where new life is cultivated. I can resist and suffer (we suffer because resistance is futile), or I can surrender to the transformation and go where it takes me.