I watch as green jewels with gold flecks wait to become butterflies. Two Monarchs pause in their chrysalises. I check them many times a day, hoping to see darkening, hoping for orange wings to show through the chrysalis skin, hoping they’ll make it out of here in warmth and sunshine, hoping they’ll fly all the way to Mexico to join their tribe.
Two others emerged, but I can’t release them. We wait together. It’s 50 degrees with thick fog between periods of hard rain. A Monarch needs 60 degrees and a partly sunny day to warm its wings, sip a little nectar, and head south. We’ll wait for a warmer day. Until then, I’ll feed them organic fruit jam. Then, I’ll wait for the last two stragglers to emerge.
I waited for the right man to appear when I was 20 and in love with love. I didn’t know who I was waiting for. I hoped I’d know love when it appeared. I got lucky.
My husband Vic hovered over me as though I was a darkened chrysalis and our baby was a butterfly.
I waited for signs of birth when there wasn’t enough room in my skin to hold two bodies. I waited for the first weak contractions to become strong and fast so that we could go to the hospital for a natural delivery. “You’re only three centimeters dilated,” the nurse said when we got there. We waited all night as my body worked on its own schedule. My husband Vic hovered over me as though I was a darkened chrysalis and our baby was a butterfly.
I lay awake waiting for my teenage sons to arrive home when they were late. I watched at the window for Vic’s headlights when the roads were slippery on a snowy night.
I waited for Vic’s death, hoping it would never come, wishing it would come faster. I waited for his release, and my mother’s, my brother’s, and mother-in-law’s. I hoped the transitions would be smooth and gentle, hoped the dying one would let go like a butterfly and move toward a destiny I could only imagine.
It was never up to me.
I learned more about waiting when Vic and I spent six weeks in Switzerland with Paul Brunton, a philosopher, writer, and wise human being. In his 80s then, I was honored to prepare food he enjoyed, help him organize his office, and cut his hair. I loved sitting with him in silence in a church in Lausanne after eating at a vegan restaurant where the soup had to be sent back to the kitchen for heating. PB, as we called him, waited patiently. The onion-scented soup wasn’t steaming when it arrived, so PB settled for lukewarm.
PB, in his 80s, struggled with French vocabulary although he’d once been fluent. Vic and I didn’t speak French, so we misread the train schedule and missed our train back to Montreux.
“Don’t be sorry,” PB said. “Waiting is an opportunity to turn inward, to find a moment’s silence, to meditate.”
“We’ll have to wait a few hours,” Vic said. “I’m sorry, PB.” We knew he was tired.
“Don’t be sorry,” PB said. “Waiting is an opportunity to turn inward, to find a moment’s silence, to meditate. Let’s be quiet and enjoy our wait.”
I remembered that moment later when life forced more pauses. Don’t get agitated when the machine breaks down during Vic’s CAT scan. Don’t be impatient while waiting for his white blood cells to soar after a stem cell transplant. Don’t expect to be in charge of life and death.
Watch and observe. Take a deep breath. Pause.
Be still. Have faith.
Notice that ray of light breaking through the clouds. Notice the Monarch’s wings flutter as it tastes the jam.
I wait for political transformation. I wait for human beings to face climate change and our unhealthy romance with fear and cruelty. I wait for sane and moral politicians with high ideals. I wait with no idea what will happen next or if it’s even possible to redeem ourselves.
I wait, grateful for my small kingdom of butterflies and wildflowers. I take the last gladiola of the season to Vic’s gravesite. I admire the quiet Monarch waiting for its time to fly.
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Elaine, I am moved deeply by your beautiful article and the sharing of your waiting journey. You are so right that we should honor and respect waiting, even when it’s hard. I love your example of the chrysalis. Nature has so much to teach us about waiting, faith, and hope.
Thank you for commenting and for contacting me on Twitter, Elizabeth. I’ve fallen in love with Monarch butterflies the last few years, watching the cycle of their life unfold and being part of the miraculous transformation. Somehow it’s never boring to watch caterpillars chomp on milkweed leaves. Sometimes waiting is the only choice in life, so it’s good to know that within that limitation we can choose to become quiet and in touch with the heart or we can go with impatient and frustration. For me, it’s a constant meditation practice to take the calm path.
Dear Elaine, thank you for your beautiful words. I spend my life waiting. Right now I am waiting for a carer to come and help me. Being ill for so many years and needing carers has taught me a level of patience that I never thought possible in this lifetime! It has also taught me to notice the really small things around me and keep a sense of wonder and thankfulness. Reading your words today has given me a wonderful sense of peace.
Love and thanks x
You know more about waiting than I can imagine. When my husband was a cancer patient, I learned what it meant to be a patient, to care for a patient, the patience required in waiting rooms or waiting for help to arrive, in chemotherapy rooms or while waiting for another test result or a stem cell transplant. The only way I could get through a challenge such as yours would be to find those moments of wonder, thankfulness, kindness, beauty, and love in the midst of the difficulty.. In the grocery store today, I spoke with an old friend with a difficult symptoms about the need to keep searching for joy. Your words complete the circle by returning peace to me. Thank you for your kindness.
Bless you, Elaine. We will share peace together. xx
Thank you for this,
dear Elaine . . .
a voice I needed to hear today,
not for patience necessarily,
but for the peace your words have given me
regarding a different struggle in my life…
Thank you, Sparrow. It seems I’m always asked to stretch beyond what’s comfortable for me. By nature, I tend toward impatience and hurry. The beauty of the seasons and a few inspired teachers teach me so much about approaching our world and challenges with peace and tolerance. Wishing you well in all ways.
Dear Elaine, thank you. I have taken quiet inspiration from this beautiful written meditation on ‘waiting’ as well as from your other essays offered here and on your website. The Monarch butterfly became something of a spirit guide for me about 5 years ago. So I should not have been surprised (but was) to find myself sheltering two Monarch caterpillars in need of help this summer. Raising them in jars on my back porch became for me an exercise in practicing equanimity (especially when only one of the caterpillars formed a viable chrysalis): to do what one can with great love and then to let go of attachment to the result. It was a joy to release my one little Monarch on September 21st. I like to imagine she is now roosting among her ‘tribe’ in the sacred fir forests of Mexico. Namaste.
I also hope your little one made it to Mexico and my little tribe. I saw a Monarch on my trail here on Nov. 2. The thrill of beauty and color and joy rising out of the browned fields followed by the stab of acceptance that this one hatched too late in the field or was traveling south too late and doesn’t have a chance. There were no flowers for nectar and the wind was from the wrong direction. I couldn’t save it, but I could honor its beauty and accept. Monarchs = Joy for me. I like thinking of equanimity, too. We tend them and then surrender to what destiny has in store. Another reminder that our egos are not in charge. Thanks for reading my pieces here and on my website. Thanks for tending the butterfly world wherever you are.. Blessings.
I had just spent at least half an hour waiting to tell my telephone company that my land line was out of order. Simple? Not a bit of it. I was eventually connected with a technical department where the woman who took my call spoke with an American accent and some of her queries convinced me she wasn’t in New Zealand or anywhere near it. “Where are you?’ I asked. ‘The Philippines.’ Not at all surprising; just totally amazing that the repair of a phone in Auckland is organised by a woman in the Philippines. We made friends then and there, we made a connection. That’s what comes of waiting, Elaine. I went to the Gratefulness website, and found your blog and read of the depths/heights waiting can take us to. My day, quite ordinary, has become inspired. Thank you.
We live in an international world, don’t we? You are in New Zealand. Your phone was dealt with by someone in the Philippines, and you’re interacting with me on line in the United States. I do not like those long waits, but it seems we can’t escape them now. A time to give thanks, a time to pray, or often a time to fume a little about modern life. I hope your phone works again.
Beautifully written 🙂 Timely for us. It’s certainly one thing to awaken to the objective reality of our True Self. Another thing to subjectively dwell and live out of that reality moment by moment. The older I get the more you see the almost comprehensive role of waiting in goodness, truth and beauty incarnating and flowing in, through and as us.
While I know it’s just a movie (though it captured and expressed a lot of deep truths), I often enjoy thinking of all the time Forrest Gump spent waiting, and all the fruit that resulted as a result. As I continue to awaken to the reality of our ignorance and vulnerability, waiting more and more is the wisest and quickest action. Counterintuitive at times 🙂
Yes, the piece is more timely than I knew it would be. I love the way you’ve expressed the connections between waiting and many other virtues. Of course, any meditation or prayer practice involves a sense of waiting.
Dear Elaine, thank-you for your sharing, it is such a beautiful reflection! A sense of peace came over me after reading it and I needed that today. Thank-you from my heart. Bless you, dear Elaine.
With love, Sheila?
Dear Sheila, I wrote this before the Pittsburgh catastrophe, but there have been so many catastrophes. I also needed this especially today and especially as voting season gets going.. Raising Monarchs this past summer gave me hope. I follow the migration news (as well as the political news) and they’re arriving at their wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico. Life is so painful, but I try to remember the beauty and miracles. Thank you, Elaine
Thank-you, Elaine. Thank goodness for small kingdoms.
Yes, we are fortunate if we can nourish hope and gratitude in small spaces so we have strength to face the larger world. Thank you, Miguelie.
Beautiful, thank you.
Slowing down has become like an elixir for me.
How can I be present in this world and thankful for life when I am speeding on to the next thing? Curious…
Thank you, Allyson. That’s the question, isn’t it? Waiting is part of living. We can make our pause a mindful meditation or we can spend our time pumping up negativity and impatience. I try to remember I have a choice every minute.
I wait till I‘ll have a little bit of your wisdom, courage and delicacy of feeling, dear Elaine.
Thank you so much for your words. Reading your thoughts makes me rich. Be blessed.
Korakas, you must have those qualities growing within you wouldn’t know to watch for them. That self-awareness seems like the essential step. Thank you for your kind encouraging words and blessings. May we all be blessed.
Thank you, your words mean a lot to me!
When I saw the first picture I thought this is something made out of pottery that was painted! I‘ve never seen this before! Now I know why: this beautiful butterfly does not exist here in Switzerland. Thank you again for sharing!
They are exquisite. I didn’t know how beautiful the chrysalis was until I raised them and watched the transformation. Once the wings show dark orange and the chrysalis darkens, it’s about to emerge as a fully grown butterfly. I’m sure you have equally beautiful butterflies in Switzerland. (You live in a beautiful country which has managed to avoid war for a long time.)