butterfly flying out of someone's hands

When a caterpillar emerges from a chrysalis, does it know it has become a butterfly, or does it make a leap of faith from the empty husk? I not sure we’ll ever learn the answer, but I am sure of this: some of us are butterflies and don’t know it.

We walk this earth yearning to make a leap toward our dreams, to swap routine existences for passionate futures. But we hesitate; we falter. We don’t just stand on the ground of our monochrome lives, we drop to all fours and cling to it. We do this because no one has ever told us that our life experiences—the passions and desires, the lessons learned, the seemingly unconnected events—have cradled us in translucent transformation chambers that can only be viewed in hindsight. They cloak us as we sleepwalk through life in mundane jobs, expected roles and little boxes where we answer to labels of someone else’s creation. But at some point, the metamorphosis is complete. We have grown vibrant wings. We have transformed into luminescent creatures who are meant to fly, if we’d simply realize we possess the power. And those individuals among us who aren’t butterflies? Just give them a little time.

I’ve been testing my wings lately, getting ready to make a leap. Only a few years ago did I discover their existence. Only in the last year did I realize their strength, that they’re now ready to support me when I leap up and fly toward the destination I’ve set.

In Make the Leap – Part 1, I wrote I’d reveal dreams I set aside. But sometimes dreams are hard to recognize. They disguise themselves as fun activities you love to do, especially when young. For me, I loved two activities in particular. The first was pretending to fly. Yes, I was that kid who tucked the bright red bath towel—a popular towel color in the ‘70s, or so I’m told—into the collar of his shirt. I’d dash through, then out of the house, leaping from the backdoor steps to the emerald grass below where I’d conjure a fierce wind with my blazing speed, giving lift to my crimson cape so it billowed behind me. I was so fast—or maybe just a slipshod towel tucker—that the cape kept slipping out. Mom saved the day with my little brother’s diaper pins. It was the first time I realized little brothers might be good for something, or at least their stuff was.

Running turned to jumping. I spent hours leaping off whatever I could climb, anything that seemed a great height to a 7-year-old. Picnic tables were first. My best friend and I took turns leaping off, even pushing each other off the wooden slats to gain extra sky time, until he landed cockeyed and broke his leg. This episode forced me to continue the pursuit on my own.

Tree limbs were next. Any tree considerate enough to grow low branches, ones within grasp from a running jump, were my new best friends. I graduated to leaping out second-story hayloft doors of neighboring barns where the hay bales below cushioned the sudden stop. As I grew, so did the heights, until haylofts were replaced by high-dives at the summer pools. The springboards flung me even further into the sky where, for brief moments, those split-seconds before gravity could draw me back toward the crystal blue below, I could almost convince myself I was flying.

Truth be known, I harbored the hope that one day, if I had faith…if I just let go and believed, I would soar upward instead of splash back down. While this “flying” bestowed the skills needed to walk onto my college diving team and walk away with a letter jacket, it never granted me the true skills I desired: to fly above the earth, to soar between the clouds under my own power. I finally realized that learning to fly a plane was the closest I would get—at least for a little while. Pretending to fly had led me to the dream of learning to fly a plane. So I rushed right out and started to learn, right?

Nope.

I graduated from college and entered the workforce, entered “reality,” a destination that seems to have zero tolerance for dreams. It didn’t help that I had no money. But the day came when I did have money. Did I rush out and learn then?

Nope.

Life got in the way, and I forgot about flying, forgot about adventure. Instead of “making a leap,” my attention turned to “making a living.” But there was always a small nag within me, a wayward voice that whispered, “You’re supposed to be doing something else.”

And then, one crisp Tuesday morning on a brilliant blue backdrop of sky, I watched an airplane pierce the World Trade Center on live television. Suddenly, I was shaken awake—along with everyone else in this country—to the realization that life was shorter than I thought. I’d been sleepwalking for the last 12 years. I wasn’t anywhere near my true purpose in life, and worse, I hadn’t even been seeking it. I made up my mind then, no matter how long it took, I would find that purpose. And whenever I did, I’d pursue it to the fullest. So I looked inward, flipping through the pages of my memory to uncover the things I once loved to do, things I wanted to do.

One of them was flying. My young son, John, had just taken an interest in the PBS Kids show, Jay Jay the Jet Plane. As his fascination with flight grew, my own magical memories of flight returned. I wasn’t sure if flying a plane was my purpose, but I decided to leap toward it because I trusted that if the passion was there, the details would sort themselves.

I mentioned that there were two activities I loved to do when I was young. Writing was the other fun, time-bending activity for me. In second grade, I penned a story titled The Day the Dinosaurs Came Back. Michael Crichton had nothing to fear from me, but I do take some pride that I had the idea 15 years before Jurassic Park slid onto the shelves. Of course, Mr. Crichton probably had the idea 20 years before that.

In third grade, I had a story published in the city paper courtesy of a county-wide writing contest I won—my guess is no one else entered. So you’d think I would have wondered if I should become a writer, right?

Nope.

Except for some song lyrics in high school, I didn’t write anything else creative for 27 years, not until after 9/11. There had been a few times where I’d read good books and thought, I can do that, but never did anything about it. I don’t think I did anything with the writing, or flying, because many in society don’t seem to place much value on what is fun, only what will make money. It took a rude awakening to realize, I didn’t care what society thought anymore.

So I started writing for fun at first, keeping journals to see what emerged. Finally, I made the leap and pitched my first article idea to a magazine, which accepted. What was my first published piece? Why, an installment series chronicling my flight training for an aviation magazine. It’s strange how those two unrelated activities wove together to produce something greater. Or was it just part of my growth, two seemingly unconnected events that formed gossamer threads in my unseen chrysalis, transforming me in ways I couldn’t understand until now.

Are you a butterfly, but haven’t known until now? Do you own the wings, but just need to determine which direction to fly? Then recall what you once loved to do. How did you have fun? What made you feel alive? The answer is there somewhere.

And for those that don’t feel their wings are formed yet, hang in there. The universe is on your side. The moment is approaching when you’ll slip from your chrysalis and not walk, not run, but leap into the air and fly toward your dreams. It’s what you were meant to do.

 

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