JPJ didn’t like how he felt.
Usually, he was vibrant and cheerful as he moved about on his six sturdy legs munching on milkweed.
JPJ loved milkweed. It was a source of both nourishment and pleasure, but today he didn’t feel like eating. He didn’t feel playing. He didn’t even feel like talking. Usually, the best part of his life was being with his caterpillar family and friends, but today he just wanted to be alone.
He crawled down the milkweed stem and looked for a private place. He found one in a patch of tall grass where a spindly oleander shrub was partially hidden. He made his way up it and began to think.
He knew he should be grateful. He was born in a place where milkweed was plentiful. He enjoyed the feeling of the warm sun on his back. There were caterpillars he loved and returned his love. In many ways, JPJ was fulfilled.
But not entirely. He had lived his life on a tiny fraction of the earth. Sometimes, after a satisfying meal, he’d roll onto his back, stare at the clouds and dream of more. He wanted to experience more. Contribute more. Be more.
Lying there, JPJ was mesmerized by the creatures of the sky. They’d soar above him, then disappear beyond magnificent mountains or find shelter in titanic trees.
For a moment, he’d be envious. Then he’d remember what a wise caterpillar once taught him – “Don’t feel bad about what you can’t do; feel good about what you can do.”
At this moment, though, no words of wisdom could help. He was too tired for optimism. Despite his life being generally happy, he felt pangs of guilt. Most caterpillars didn’t have it as good as he had it. Most living creatures didn’t. Others’ lives were unfairly hard.
JPJ had seen suffering. When other caterpillars or even other animals were hurt, JPJ felt their pain – pain he had no power to prevent or end. In the past, he’d turn away from the worst of the world. He’d focus on his own life and what he could control.
But not now. He just couldn’t. Life had exhausted him. He was … over it.
Just as he was about succumb to hopelessness and resignation, a mysterious burst of energy overtook him. He had an odd urge to hang upside down from one of the oleander branches. The next thing he knew, he was!
Inexplicably, uncontrollably he wiggled and writhed until he managed to extract himself from his constrictive skin. Beneath it, a magical jade green protective sheathing shone.
After all that exercise, JPJ was spent. Yet, he felt warm, comfortable, and secure. He was about to close his eyes and surrender to an overwhelming impulse to rest when a series of conflicting thoughts cluttered his mind.
There’s beauty everywhere. If I close my eyes, I’ll miss it.
But so much of life is sad. I can’t endure it anymore.
I want to be here for my family. They need me!
But I feel others’ pain too much.
I’ll miss my friends and the good times we share.
But … I’ll… I…
And then, submission.
Despite being virtually lifeless for eleven days, when JPJ awoke he wasn’t groggy. He was refreshed and invigorated. His mind was clear. Feeling fit and light, he emerged from his chrysalis and unfolded his wings.
Yes! Somehow JPJ had sprouted two magnificent orange and black wings! He stared at them, admiring the unfathomable yet delightful change to his body.
Cautiously, he wiggled his wings, then forcefully flapped them. He lifted off the oleander into the gorgeous blue sky. JPJ was flying!
He spotted his caterpillar family and friends. Staring down only at the milkweed beneath them, they didn’t see JPJ.
He thought about how quickly time passed. It seemed like only a moment ago when he’d hatched from a small yellow egg and began life as a tiny larva. In just two weeks, he matured into a strikingly striped caterpillar, and now he had morphed into a lovely monarch.
The reminiscing was unsettling. Had he taken the time to properly savor each stage of his life? He couldn’t go back and relive any part of it. And now he’d left behind the caterpillars he loved. He was no longer a part of their world.
Then, a wonderful revelation spun his regrets and sorrow into hope and joy. He realized that his family and friends would evolve as he had. Soon, they would join him in the liberating sky above, transcending the troubling world below.
JPJ smiled and flew a little higher.
The story of JPJ came to me during the days following my father’s unexpected passing. Attempting to provide comfort for our family and friends, I told the JPJ story at dad’s funeral. Twenty-seven years later, my mom died, and I retold the story at her funeral. My big brother was killed in a freak accident just a few months prior to mom’s death.
It is my great hope that J (my father, John), P (my mother, Patricia) and J (my brother, JT) are together in a less painful place, secure in the knowledge that they will be reunited with those they love.