Sunday, August 28, 2011

Butterflies and Transformation

 (photo found on internet)
One of the unique things that happens in Lawrence every September is the arrival of thousands of Monarch butterflies. The nearby Haskell-Baker Wetlands is a stop along their migration route from Canada to Mexico. One year there were so many of them that they covered the trees like leaves, and when I walked through the wetlands, thousands of butterflies danced around me, creating a soft, fluttering wind. One year I even had the unique pleasure of hosting one of them in my home. What follows is an essay I wrote (for a monthly column I used to have) about the transforming experience that resulted from that event. This essay predates my travels in Italy: in fact, at the time I wrote the essay, I had no inkling  that I would soon be spreading my own wings to fly far away from home, creating my own seasonal migration route between Italy and Kansas.

 One blustery October afternoon some years ago, when I was moving plants inside for the winter, I noticed an object hanging on the underside of a palm tree. I removed it, not knowing for sure what it was or what to do with it. The object was a tiny green chamber, dotted with gold markings, reminding me of an Egyptian sarcophagus. I quickly did some research on the internet and discovered that it was a butterfly chrysalis. I put it back where I had found it and kept an eye on it for several days, wondering what would happen next. Then I promptly forgot about it.

 (photo found on internet)
That weekend, when showing the chrysalis to a friend, I discovered it was empty. The butterfly had emerged but was nowhere to be seen. Then several days later, like magic, a monarch butterfly appeared, fluttering around the front room. Unfortunately it flew into a halogen lamp, getting stuck beneath the heating element. I immediately turned the lamp off, to prevent it from getting fried, but it was damaged in the process, and had trouble flying after that.

I fixed a saucer of sugar water to feed the butterfly, though I didn't expect it to survive the night. But it slowly gained more strength and began to move around. I sensed there was something synchronistic about this experience; that the butterfly had some meaning for me, prompting me to take a deeper look at my life. As a matter of fact, I’d been feeling sad and anxious that whole year, realizing I’d gone astray from accomplishing many cherished goals. Like the butterfly, I’d been “crippled” by several life events, and was limping along, unhappy and unfulfilled.

I knew this magical creature could not last long in my house, but I wanted to enjoy its presence while I could. It was a privilege to have it in my home, and to watch its movements up close. One day, I named the butterfly “Benito,” the first name that popped into my head, only to discover later that Benito means “blessed”. I enjoyed having Benito as a companion, but it was a bittersweet experience. Since the weather was cold, there seemed no point in trying to release him outdoors. How sad it was to watch him beating his wings against the window, losing energy and wing fragments. He was being kept from his natural environment by the barrier of glass, unable to fulfill his butterfly potential.

In the end, I couldn’t bear the thought of finding Benito dead one day, a prisoner in my house. Fortunately, fate stepped in during the next week, providing a string of days as warm as spring. On an impulse, I scooped Benito up one morning and took him outside. I wasn’t sure if he could fly, but I knew I had to give him that chance. I could keep him “safe” and watch him die, or I could let him fly free, and see what happened. When I released him, despite the torn wings, Benito took off in an instant, and was quickly gone from sight, headed toward the wetlands. Even if his life in the wild was a short one, at least he was able to fulfill his destiny as a butterfly. Watching him fly away, I knew he was a messenger, “blessing” the way to change.

I saw myself like that fragile butterfly, beating my wings against a barrier that held me back from reaching my potential. I had the definite feeling that transformation was needed in my life, but in order for that to happen, I’d have to find the courage to let go of the “safe” and predictable life I was leading. It took me another six months to make some long needed changes, accompanied by anguish, doubt and grief. But once things got rolling, a new momentum began to build, and I discovered a flurry of new ideas, new opportunities, and new experiences opening up in my life. Within a year, I was able to accomplish numerous goals that I’d been distracted from completing for nearly a decade. My life is flourishing as a result of those changes, and the momentum continues to build as I continue to challenge myself with new goals.

As butterflies appear in your lives this fall, I encourage you to consider the prospect of transformation in your own life. Don’t wait for crippling life events to occur before you consider making much needed changes. By the very act of choosing transformation over stagnation, we become energized to create a more satisfying and rewarding life. Like Benito, I encourage you to fly eagerly and willfully into your destiny, fulfilling your unique potential, broken wings and all.

Copyright © 2006 Marybeth Bethel (excluding photos)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Synchronistic Journey: Italy during WW II

Lately, I've been reading many books, one after another, which has lead me on a synchronistic journey of sorts. First, I came across an interesting novel about Italian POWs during WW II, entitled The Paperbark Shoe, by Goldie Goldbloom. Since Italy was so deeply affected by this war, and the impact is still reverberating in the Italian way of life, it seems necessary to learn what I can about that time in Italian history if I can ever hope to understand Italian culture in the present day. 

The novel takes place in the 1940's, when 18,000 Italian POWs were sent to Australia by the British government. Many of the prisoners were then sent to work on Australian farms, due to a shortage of  male farm workers caused by Australian men fighting in the war. The story describes an Australian family who take on two Italian  POWs, and how the experience affects their lives. The tale also ties into a massacre by German soldiers that took place in a small Tuscan village during that time. The strage di Sant'Anna di Stazzema,  August 12, 1944, claimed the lives of more than 500 Italian civilians, who were thought to be harboring Italian resistance fighters (partigiani) in their village. The Paperbark Shoe was a powerful novel, and it lead me to the second step of  my journey: a movie by Spike Lee, called Miracle at St. Anna.

While doing research on the strage di Sant'Anna, I learned about the movie, and found it available on DVD at the local library. From watching the movie, I learned more, not only about the massacre, but also about the Italian resistance (partigiani) and the role of black American soldiers fighting in Tuscany during the war. After watching the movie, I decided to read the novel it was based on, also called Miracle at St. Anna, by James Mc Bride.


This novel gave me a deeper understanding of the many factions at war in Tuscany during WW II, and how the events and experiences of that time have shaped not only Italian history, but its culture and way of life as well. I also learned about the Buffalo soldiers' unique status in the village, a situation that made them feel more accepted and free in Italy than they did at home in the United States. Like the book Paperbark Shoe, Miracle at St. Anna was hard to put down: it was a "good read" that was both informative and engaging.

I enjoy following a synchronistic journey that leads me from one thing to the next, weaving the threads of several topics or events into a complex, textured fabric, rich with meaning. In this case, I was lead to a deeper understanding of several powerful moments that shaped the history and culture of Italy, as well as that of Australia and the United States. Some of  the questions that arose in the first book were answered for me later in the movie and the second  book. I have a strong feeling there is more to this journey, and I'm curious to see where I'm "lead'' next.