If I raise my eyes to survey the world, its sheer size overwhelms me. Ground, blanketed by soft grass, stretches on for miles and miles in one direction while, on my other side, the earth is more jagged, raw and brown. It stretches on as far as my eyes can see, too. Both directions hold trees so large it would take me years to climb: sometimes their sheer size frightens me. Other things, too: rocks that are three or four or sometimes five times my size are everywhere. When I lift my eyes, I see obstacles in every direction: a mountain to climb there, a large and frightening predator here, the footsteps of careless humans behind me , the curious, but terrifying, fingers of an inquisitive child in front of me. Lifting my eyes brings into my line of vision another obstacle too: the simple size of the earth. All I can see is ground. I can’t stay in one position, because I’ll never make it, but the thought of having to cross so much territory is terrifying and daunting. I probably won’t make it, won’t survive the obstacles that are everywhere in front of me. Looking up makes me tired before I even get started. And this thing, this piece of time called life, is momentary; finite. I don’t have a lot of time to get my food, to get my shelter, to become what I’m supposed to be, to find the beauty that everyone thinks is hidden within my walls.
So I move along, slowly. I keep my eyes focused on the bit of ground beneath my feet. This doesn’t make me feel quite so overwhelmed. Instead of realizing that I have to go ten thousand miles in a short time, or that the obstacle is to climb the entire mountain, looking down fools me into believing that all I have to do is put one foot in front of the other one more time. Some have argued that it’s not living, looking down all the time as I do. To this, I just shrug my many muscles and reply, “It is less intimidating.” Every living thing strives to avoid the object of its fear. People live in constant dread of dying and will often go to amazing lengths to prevent their own death, or that of a loved one. People will jump through tremendous loopholes so that they don’t have to confront whatever it is, be it death, a particular animal, or anything else, that truly terrifies them. They look up and see the same thing I do: an endless stretch of obstacles, miles to cross, mountains to climb, hurdles to jump through, and they base their self-worth not only merely completing the marathon but on timing: if they complete it, but do so last, they don’t think they are a winner. They’d rather be engaged in a competitive race.
The energy that requires drains me, just thinking about it. But, in a way, I’m in a race of my own. I just don’t look up to see it. But I am always on the search for food, for shelter, and will even accept help from an ant to live another day. There are no others racing against me, but it is still a race. If I don’t get food, I will die. If I don’t find protection from the predators, I will die. I would prefer that that not happen, and so I will cross however many miles it takes to find a secure home. I will climb the tree, I will fight my way out of the hole I’m in….and why? Dying itself does not scare me. Every time I change something about my life, a part of me dies anyway. When I grew from an infant to an adult, a part of me got left behind: you could say that part of me died. Actual death won’t be that much different. So why do I fight against it, just as everyone does? Perhaps it is because I am afraid of not obtaining that final meal, or that final goal. Perhaps it is because I want to be someone important, someone beautiful and I have to believe that it is within my ability to be exactly that: beautiful, worthy.
People look me by right now. Sometimes they almost step on me. Often, it feels as though they have already. Some of them watch me in a sort of wonder, almost repulsion, actually. They see me without their legs, they see me looking down so that I might advance one more step. They see me doing all the things they don’t and the reaction is startling. They laugh, they stand up tall and straight, frighteningly so, they call over their friends and then point and stare. I am under their microscope. Part of me is afraid of that. Part of me finds that intimidating.
But not all of me.
You see, despite my quiet nature, despite my passiveness and my extreme willingness to look the other way; despite my trouble with interactions, despite my odd deformities and rather freakish behavior, despite being called voracious and being labeled by some as harmful to plants and living things, despite the temptation to believe all the negative and to give in to it… the truth is, a part of me believes in the unbelievable. A part of me wants to walk the next mile and climb the next mountain because I can’t help but cling to the hope that tomorrow will be the day my real self emerges. Sometimes, I can feel something happening within me: sometimes I can feel the breath of fresh air rushing through my lungs all the way throughout my body, and it feels good! Sometimes the air feels different when I walk and I am convinced that it is a sign for me, a sign that all of my hard work will amount to something. When I close my eyes, sometimes I dream of waking up differently. I relish the idea that one day, I just might, for real. When I rest, I feel energized and I find it hard to believe that that’s for nothing. When I eat, I feel a rush of energy that makes me believe I ate for more than the calories. I ate for growth and growth has a purpose. Maybe I’m not sure exactly what that purpose is, but I hear rumors in my head and from a handful of friends who whisper that they see something exciting and wonderful happening from within me. It is easy for me to get confused. Birds are dangerous creatures, they are not my friends, and yet, they can make the most beautiful of noise, the most melodic songs, songs that resonate with me. I like to think that’s because, one day, I will find myself flying amongst them, soaring instead of walking, inspiring rather than disturbing. In essence, it is rather impossible for me to believe that we were all here accidentally and, if we were not put here accidentally, than that means we must all have a purpose. Even me. And so, I walk. And so, I climb. And so, I endure the heat and the cold and the lack of food and the unkind words. And so, I sleep, wake and do it all over again, clinging to the fading, but still present, belief in myself.
Finally, I feel compelled to step outside of my routine. Finally, one day, I feel inspired to find a different kind of resting place. Finally, one day, my body seems too big for my spirit and I am inclined to follow my spirit for once. Finally, the growth’s purpose seems so close it is almost tangible. The world is still large, still seemingly endless, but it now does not feel quite so unconquerable. My hard work is almost done: I know because I am breathing differently. The world is dark as I sleep, but my body is not. I dream of seeing the world differently and, while dreaming, I begin to shake. I shake violently. There is a mountain I have not yet climbed and its summit is my dream’s haven. I want to see the top of that mountain. But I don’t want to climb there.
I hear a cracking sound, then another. I push harder. The shell falls away, and I tumble to the ground, awakening. I start to stretch but….there is not a segmented body to stretch any longer. I am quivering; these newfound wings of mine are still unsure how to fly. Breathing heavily, my heart racing, I spend the next three hours flapping my wings furiously. I look at them: I can see part of them. They are so colorful: parts of them red, white and blue. Finally, I flap them hard again and suddenly, for the first time in my life, I am flying! My wings are strong. I am not afraid of falling. For the first time, I want to look up, because it doesn’t seem hard anymore. Within moments, I have reached the summit of that final mountain. I did it! I see others stare at me and point, but now there is awe on their faces, somehow my beauty inspires a sense of magic. It must be me. I am the one they are looking at with such joy.
I am beautiful.
I am strong.
I am resilient.
I am capable.
I am triumphant over all life’s obstacles.
I am free.
I take to the skies again, now confident and strong . Suddenly, the very things that once seemed so large now seem so small. The tree tops are actually beneath me, animals can’t capture me and this feeling of exuberance and pride and self-worth are the hard work’s reward. Looking down now seems to deprive myself of the reward: I’d never see the bird’s nest, or the way clouds definitely look like ice cream cones sometimes or the way the sun falls upon the water in the lake, or the proud smile of my friends. I only see those things by taking my eyes off the work, by looking up. I never did anything spectacular; I never did anything monumental. I just walked, putting one foot in front of the other, trying to survive because of a faint dream, a tiny hope. I am just like everyone else for, in one way or the other, we are all exactly the same: butterflies.
What a beautiful post, Tiffini, You put so much feeling into your writing and I was lucky to win your book. I feel awful that I have not started reading it yet. Only because I have two books that I am in the middle of right now. But I am looking forward to it.:-)