By Trina Paulus June 1999 Stripe was just another crawler… till he found his wings Once upon a time, a tiny striped caterpillar burst out from the egg that had been his home. ‘Hello world,’ he said. ‘It sure is bright out here in the sun, and I’m hungry.’ Straight-away, he began to eat the leaf he was born on. Then another leaf. and another. And he got bigger… and bigger… until one day he stopped eating and thought: ‘There must be more to life than just eating and getting bigger.’ So, Stripe crawled down from the tree that had shaded and fed him, and started searching for more. He found many new things—grass, dirt, holes and tiny bugs. Everything fascinated him, but nothing satisfied him. When he came across others like himself, he was excited. But these crawlers were so busy eating that they had no time to talk. ‘They don’t know any more than I do,’ sighed Stripe. One day, Stripe saw some crawlers really crawling to reach somewhere. He looked around and saw a great column rising into the air, made solely of squirming and pushing caterpillars—a caterpillar pillar. It appeared that all the caterpillars were trying to reach the top. Stripe felt new excitement—like sap rising in the spring—as he thought: ‘Maybe now I’ll find what I’m looking for.’ Intrigued, he asked a crawler: ‘What’s happening?’ ‘Nobody has time to explain,’ said the other. ‘They’re busy trying to get up there.’ ‘But what’s at the top?’ ‘No one knows that either. But it must be good. Because everybody’s rushing there. Good-bye.’ The crawler plunged back into the pile. Stripe’s head was bursting with excitement. Every second, a new crawler passed him and disappeared into the pillar. ‘There’s only one way to find out,’ decided Stripe and pushed himself in. The first moments on the pile were a shock. Stripe was pushed and kicked. Then he began climbing. No more fellow caterpillars-all were now obstacles. As he pushed on, Stripe felt he was getting higher. But some days, he could barely manage to keep his place. It was then that an anxious shadow nagged inside him: ‘What’s at the top? Where are we going?’ A little yellow caterpillar he was crawling over gasped: ‘What did you say?’ ‘I was just wondering where we’re going.’ ‘You know,’ Yellow said, ‘even I was wondering. But as there’s no way of finding out, I decided it wasn’t important.’ She blushed and hastily asked: ‘How far are we from the top?’ Stripe answered gravely: ‘Since we’re neither at the bottom nor at the top, we must be in the middle.’ But now Stripe felt bad. ‘How can I step on someone I’ve just talked to?’ he thought. He avoided Yellow as much as possible. But one day there she was, blocking the only way up. ‘Well, I guess it’s you or me,’ he said, and stepped squarely on her head. Something in the way Yellow looked at him made him feel awful. Crawling off Yellow, he whispered: ‘I’m sorry.’ Yellow began to cry: ‘I could stand this life until I met you. Now when you look at me so kindly, I know that I don’t like this life. I just want to crawl with you and nibble grass.’ Stripe’s heart leapt inside. Everything looked different. The pillar made no sense at all. ‘I would like that too,’ he whispered. But this meant giving up the climb—a hard decision. ‘Yellow dear, maybe we’re close to the top. Maybe if we help each other we can get there quickly.’ ‘Maybe,’ she reluctantly agreed, knowing this wasn’t what they wanted most. But then, she suddenly said: ‘Let’s go down.’ As if he was waiting for this cue, Stripe immediately agreed and they stopped climbing. They clung to each other as caterpillars crawled over them. The air was terrible but they were happy and rolled into a big ball so nobody could step on their eyes and stomachs. They did nothing at all for a long time. Suddenly they didn’t feel anything crawling over them. They were at the side of the caterpillar pillar. ‘Hi Stripe,’ said Yellow. ‘Hi Yellow,’ said Stripe. And they crawled off into some fresh green grass to eat and take a nap. Before falling asleep, Stripe hugged Yellow. ‘Being together like this is sure different from being crushed!’ She smiled and closed her eyes. So Yellow and Stripe romped in the grass, ate, grew fat and loved each other. It was heaven not to be fighting everybody every moment. But, with time, even hugging seemed boring. Each knew every hair of the other. Stripe couldn’t help wondering: ‘There must be still more to life.’ Yellow noticed Stripe’s restlessness and tried to make him comfortable. ‘Just think how much better this is than that awful mess,’ she said. ‘But we don’t know what’s at the top,’ he answered. ‘Maybe now that we’ve rested, we could make it to the top.’ ‘Dear Stripe, please,’ she begged. ‘We have a nice home and we love each other. It’s much more than all those lonely climbers have.’ Stripe felt convinced, but only for a while. His hankering for the climbing worsened. The pillar haunted him. He crawled there regularly, looking up and wondering. But the top remained clouded. One day at the pillar, three thuds startled Stripe. Three big caterpillars had fallen from someplace and smashed. Two seemed dead but one still wiggled. Stripe whispered: ‘What happened? Can I help?’ He made out just a few words. ‘The top. they’ll see… butterflies alone.’ The caterpillar died. Stripe crawled home and told Yellow. Both were quiet. What did the mysterious message mean? Finally Stripe announced: ‘I’ve got to find out the secret of the top.’ Gently, he asked Yellow: ‘Will you come and help me?’ Yellow struggled inside. She loved Stripe and wanted his success. But she couldn’t believe that the top was worth it. She wanted to get ‘up’ too; the crawling life wasn’t enough for her either. Stripe seemed so sure that Yellow felt ashamed to disagree. She also felt stupid, since she could never articulate her reasons. Yet, somehow, waiting and not being sure was better than doing something she couldn’t believe. For all her love, she couldn’t go with Stripe. Climbing was a wrong way to get high. ‘No,’ she said, heartsick. Stripe left her for his climb. Yellow was desolate without Stripe. She crawled daily to the pile looking for him and returned home at night, sad but half-relieved that she never saw him. If she had, she feared she might plunge after him. She felt like doing something, anything, other than waiting. ‘What in the world do I really want?’ she sighed. ‘It seems different every few minutes. But I know that there must be more.’ One day, a gray-haired caterpillar hanging upside down on a branch surprised her. He seemed caught in some hairy stuff. ‘You seem to be in trouble,’ she said. ‘Can I help?’ ‘No, my dear, I have to do this to become a butterfly.’ Her whole insides leapt on hearing the word ‘butterfly’. ‘Tell me, sir,’ Yellow asked, ‘what is a butterfly?’ ‘It’s what you are meant to become. It flies with beautiful wings and joins the earth to heaven. It drinks only nectar from the flowers and carries the seeds of love from one flower to another. Without butterflies, the world would have fewer flowers.’ Yellow gasped: ‘It can’t be true! How can I believe there’s a butterfly inside you or me? Do you need to die to become a butterfly?’ ‘Yes and no,’ the gray caterpillar said. ‘This may look like dying but actually you will still live. Life is changed, not taken away. Isn’t that different from those who die without ever becoming butterflies?’ ‘And if I decide to become a butterfly,’ said Yellow hesitantly, ‘what do I do?’ ‘Watch me. I’m making a cocoon. It’s a halfway house where the change takes place. It’s a big step, since you can never return to caterpillar life. And the change is so slow that anyone who might peek in may feel that nothing is happening. But the butterfly is already becoming. And once you are a butterfly, you can really love: the kind of love that makes new life.’ ‘Oh, let me go and get Stripe,’ Yellow said. But she knew he was too far away. ‘Don’t be sad,’ said her new friend. ‘If you change, you can fly and show him how beautiful butterflies are. Maybe he will want to become one too!’ Yellow was torn in anguish: ‘What if Stripe comes back and I’m not there? What if he doesn’t recognize my new self? Suppose he decides to stay a caterpillar? At least we can do something as caterpillars.’ How could she risk the only life she knew? What did she have to go on? Just another caterpillar who believed enough to make his own cocoon. And a peculiar hope that had kept her away from the pillar and leapt within her when she heard about butterflies. The gray-haired caterpillar continued to cover himself with silky threads. As he wove the last bit around his head he called: ‘We’re all waiting for you!’ Suddenly, Yellow wanted to become a butterfly. She desired to sprout wings. So, she began spinning her own cocoon. ‘I didn’t even know I could do i
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