Lately I've been working with vintage quilt patterns, one of these is a butterfly. This was a popular quilt in the 1930s because the butterfly represented hope, a flight from the rough times of the Depression. While working with this pattern, my mind goes back a ways to my son's seventh grade science project and how the butterfly taught us about hope.
The class was studying the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. It wasn't Ted's effort that took me by surprise, it was that his energy level was sustained. Ted collected milkweed, the food that monarch caterpillars thrive on. Dozens of leaves were systematically harvested, washed, packed between layers of paper towel, and frozen to insure an abundant food supply well into the Minnesota autumn. Habitats were carefully constructed from plastic tubs with screened holes. Eggs were incubated. These hatched and larvae (caterpillars) began consuming milkweed leaves. We got daily reports at dinner each evening. Ted was exuberant.
One day after school, Ted ecstatically announced he would be bringing several of his groups' larvae home. I felt a bit reluctant to bear this weighty responsibility. As he came home from school the next day, I asked to see the larvae. "They're in the refrigerator in the garage," he replied. "The refrigerator!!! NO! That will kill them," I cried. "But Mom, that is the experiment!," he retorted. I questioned him sternly. The teacher had apparently agreed to this. The idea was to see how the larvae develop at a range of temperatures. Our garage fridge apparently had been judged an ideal low-temperature laboratory. I bit my tongue and said no more.
At dinner time, I sent Ted out to get milk from the garage. He soon returned, his voice trembling with emotion as heannounced "Mom, the milk is frozen ... and so are the larvae! I can't believe I killed them." My heart went out to him as I examined the four lifeless slugs rolled over on their backs. Tears welled in his eyes as he solemnly put their habitat in the mudroom with his book bag and called his teammates to give them the news. As he went to bed that night, his voice cracking with sadness, he said, ''I feel bad about the larvae. I really thought they'd be fine." I wished I had not said they would die. I wished I had not been doubtful, but encouraging. I hugged him and tried to make up for it. It was not his fault, I tried to tell him. It was an experiment. My throat choked with emotion. I wished I could take back everything I said.
In the midst of the next morning's hustle and bustle, the phone rang. Amanda, from Ted's science team, was checking in to see if they were really dead. I was amused by her misplaced optimism but much more so when Ted went to check. A scream erupted from the mudroom, "They're alive, they're alive!!! Look, look!!! Mom, they're alive!!!" Amanda was left dangling on the line as Ted ran for his observation sheet to correct the data. I shared the tears, as I observed all four larvae doing the dance of the milkweed feast. Oh Joy!
We have concluded that the larvae went into hibernation during their stay in the refrigerator. But the biological explanation is outweighed by the spiritual explanation. There is hope. It will emerge just as the butterfly emerges from the cocoon.
Several weeks later, Ted's class released their monarch butterflies to begin the migration to their over- wintering ground in Mexico. It was a triumphant moment. The seventh grade science project taught us two lessons: First, caterpillars can survive a hard freeze. Second, hope is a hardy thing. Don't abandon it even though it rolls over on its back and lies still for a while. You just need to have faith and believe.
Wishing you peace, hope and joy!
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