When my kids were younger, they loved the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Eric Carle wrote this classic children’s story of a caterpillar eating everything in sight before building a cocoon around himself and ultimately emerging as a beautiful butterfly. The first time we read this story, Ellie and Tommy had a hard time understanding how the caterpillar became the butterfly. How could a fuzzy, worm-like insect be the same creature as the delicate, flying butterfly? How could he enter a cocoon looking one way and emerge in a completely different form? It was hard for them to reconcile and, at times, frustrating trying to explain that this children’s book really was based on true life caterpillar to butterfly events.
For many, this week is the first week of school. But instead of backpacks being dusted off and lunch boxes being prepared, computers are being set up and internet connections are being checked. As I began to read through the countless emails from school and attempted to write down some sort of schedule in my desk calendar, I found myself doing more erasing of previously scheduled back-to-school events than calendar entries. And anything I did enter into my calendar was done in pencil with a large question mark on the side because who the hell knows what is going to happen in this school year?
There’s no way around it- this school year is going to be different. Actually, it’s going to be VERY different. We are emerging from our quarantine cocoons to once again embark on some sort of COVID dictated learning model that will certainly evolve as the year inches along. Our kids may feel the fear. We will probably experience the stress. Our emotions are on high alert in a time when we only want to be able to pass along joy and peace to our children. Because we know they are not immune to the news. And we wonder daily how they could possibly handle the truth of it all when we are still struggling to navigate it all ourselves.
For me, as I looked at the shadows of erased events and blank calendar pages, I felt a gained fear that can only come from a loss of control. The truth is, my default is to allow myself to wallow in that fear for a bit but this time, I knew I had two children who were going to be asking me a lot of questions and looking to me for guidance. So, I did that thing that parents do- that thing where we become some better form of ourselves for the sake of our children- and then hope like hell we are able to follow our own advice.
Yes- I was scared. And yes- I was sad. And yes- I felt out of control. But I also knew that even though I couldn’t control the events that were happening all around me, I did still have control over two things that have always, always gotten me through- forgiveness and love.
I know I could have better navigated the past few months. Hell- I could have better navigated the past forty-two years but what’s done is done. Hopefully, my mistakes have become my lessons, though I’m still hard on myself. We all are because we’re human and part of being human is feeling regret and pain and sadness. But that’s where forgiveness comes in and forgiveness is 100% a choice. It is not our natural default and is so fucking hard but it’s ours to do if we make the choice. And I think that actually, the most important and difficult person to forgive just might be ourselves.
I’ve found that when we give ourselves that love and grace that comes with forgiveness, it frees us up to offer the same to others. Hurt people hurt so let’s heal our own wounds, love ourselves for our scars, and move on with grace and compassion. This is not a time for judgment. Our world needs our bright light so let’s work on fixing our inner lightbulbs. We can move out of the darkness together.
And then- there’s love. Love is the ultimate guide, the ultimate truth, and the ultimate healer. Love does not mean happily ever after. To love is to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable is scary- actually, terrifying, but no great reward ever came without an even greater risk.
What do you think would happen if we asked ourselves each morning what we’d love to achieve that one day more than anything else? And then what if we went and did it? What if we put our own self-doubt and fears and judgments aside? What if we got out of our own way so we could emerge from our safe hiding places in our most beautiful form so we could fly?
As we go into this school year and as we prepare for the hard questions that will surely come from our kids, maybe we remember our friend Mr. Caterpillar. Let’s hold on to his journey from crawling worm to beautiful butterfly. Maybe all this changing form is our cue to come out of our hiding spots and check out our colorful wings. Maybe this school year, different as it may seem, will be filled with beauty in a different form. And maybe, just maybe, we can all come together so we can evolve and forgive and love. Because love gives us hope. And hope gives us wings.
In love and hope-