She didn’t see him until she had landed on the twig, angling her wings to catch the warmth of the soft spring sun. His green, segmented body was well-camouflaged against the leaf stem, but she saw his familiar, hunching movement. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that she herself had been exactly the same ..
He looked at her, then quickly looked away. She recognised the signs, she had once felt exactly the same shy awkwardness. It seemed wrong, on such a beautiful day, that he should be left feeling such awkwardness and doubt, when there was a wonderful secret she could share with him. She paused, wondering what she should say, then his furtive, sidelong glance decided her.
“Hello,” she said gently, “isn’t it a beautiful morning?”
“Yes,” he answered, then, with a sudden rush of words, “it must be wonderful to fly in the sunlight on such a day!”
It was her cue, and she took it. “It is wonderful. There’s such freedom being able to fly. I can remember how it felt when I was like you, and had to crawl everywhere. I used to dream of being able to fly, and it all seemed such a ridiculous, impractical thing to dream of.”
“Well,” he replied, “it is. Some are born with wings, and some without. We all have our place in this world. We live, we eat, we enjoy light and warmth while it is given to us, and make the most of every juicy leaf, then the day is over and the darkness descends. One by one our friends disappear, becoming dry and lifeless lumps. This is who we are, this is all we have.”
“Oh no, it isn’t really like that at all. It only looks like that. We go into that darkness like a great sleep, a sleep that feels like death – but it is not. We come out the other end as a new creature; it’s like getting born all over again”
“That old fairytale? We tell that to the new hatchlings, the one-day-you-can-be-whatever-you-like story, but then we outgrow it. I guess that some people like to dream that there is something more than this, but they’re only fooling themselves. There is nothing more than this, and wishful thinking only spoils the pleasures of now. Take what you can, enjoy this life you have, and don’t muddle the moment with vague philosophies. That’s as silly as trying to tell a chicken that it’s going to grow up to become an eagle!”
“But what if it is?” She saw him roll his eyes and realised she had not expressed herself well. “I mean, what if it turns out that it really isn’t a chicken after all, but a baby eagle?”
“Baby eagles still have wings, “ he replied, obviously growing tired of the conversation, which was interrupting his continuous lunch. “You might note that I do not have any wings – see, none!! – and I am self-evidently not a baby butterfly. I don’t know what game you’re playing, or why, but please leave me alone. I don’t have a future destiny, and I’m very hungry.”
The butterfly flew sadly away, wondering why it had to be so difficult. Was there no way to convince a caterpillar that there was a greater reality than what it could see immediately before it?