The Human Metamorphosis
At age 21, only a few months after graduating from university, I moved halfway across the country to the East Coast to start working for a Fortune 50 company. I left behind friends, a boy I loved deeply, a community I knew well, and a familiar religion to a place where I knew no one and had to build from scratch.
I had already lived abroad 3 times during college, so I thought I wasn’t afraid of relocation. The area where I lived was well-known for having many well-educated and good-looking people, so I thought I wasn’t afraid of meeting new people (either romantically or platonically). I had already had crises of faith and emotional disappointments with God, so I thought my old way of clinging to my religious beliefs for emotional stability would get me through any potential rough patches.
The culture shock I had conveniently forgotten came back full force, and this time there was no date of returning home to look forward to. So I got restless to leave. The city was full of people, but also full of impenetrable networks. (I made friends who said they were still trying to break into both the friendship and romantic networks after years of living there) My faith was slowly all but deconstructed, and I realized I had been worshiping the sense of emotional stability I got from believing in an Absolute rather than seeking truth or a personal relationship or what have you. Attempting to overcome my ongoing feelings for my brief relationship before graduation, I dated hectically, eventually ending up in a brief and rather unhappy relationship with a coworker that left me feeling hopeless even before he ended it. Consequently, I continuously clung to that other person and the uniquely persistent and familiar feelings I had for him, spiraling out of control every time he (understandably) started dating someone else.
Yet, from the outside, whenever I would offer some complaint to a friend that I wasn’t liking my situation, they were always confused. “Why? You look so successful! You have a great job/get to travel/live in a cool area/etc.” And I knew all that. I felt all the more guilty for being ungrateful. I doubled down on my efforts, volunteering with a non-profit and investing more time with church activities. But the restlessness, uncertainty, dissatisfaction, and homesickness persisted for months.
Feeling somewhat hostile towards my previous beliefs, as they were not preventing these feelings, I racked my head over secular philosophies and astrology, trying to figure out how to make the chaos compute. So many agnostic thought pieces seemed to argue “you must embrace uncertainty” — yet even that belief was itself a statement of certainty! At first I was suspicious of religion before I realized that many article-writing atheists were just as guilty of the savior complex. I juggled notions of the inability to empirically detect metaphysical realities with the notion that we do in fact have to accept some other forms of knowledge — I can drive in America and ignore the “culturally-specific knowledge” of driving on the right side of the road, but that will only get me hurt eventually. Somehow I thought if I could answer these big Questions that I would somehow feel better in my daily life.
But no amount of Google searches immediately answered my pressing questions about life, love, God, or myself. I constantly swung between nihilistic and manic, plotting out my five year plan, because I was only able to be dictated by what I knew — how I felt. And since I didn’t have a reason to orient myself along my old guidelines, and I knew it wouldn’t really solve anything, from time to time I would plug the ache with alcohol/smoking/reckless driving/questionable dating choices/what have you to feel at least a little more “alive.”
And that is the moral of this story. I have not answered all of these questions yet; I have not reconciled all of these hurts. I am in the middle of it all. I have not “grown up” and learned better. I have not had a revelation of faith that has overshadowed all doubts, nor have I abandoned my “childish beliefs” to embrace a cold and impersonal universe. I don’t have my answers, yet. I imagine some of this resonates with where you are at or have been as well. And so I want to share the vision I recently had about this:
In life, we experience times of transition: in and out of school, relationships, jobs, life stages, etc. It is easy to think of this in terms of where you were before and where you were after, such as a transition from college to employment, or from stay-at-home-mom to empty nester, or caterpillar to butterfly. But this misses out on the critical stage of that transition: the pupa. The caterpillar digests itself into a pile of mush so that it can transform into a butterfly. That is certainly a painful and vague process. In fact, the pupa hardly looks like one or the other, and yet in some ways it is both. [Many species of butterfly maintain memories of their caterpillar days and even their time in the chrysalis] And it doesn’t happen in just one day.
This is where I have been at: through my chrysalis, I have looked down upon my caterpillar friends and said “quit eating leaves and growing fat and join me up here!” if not longing to be with them down on the ground or envying the butterflies fluttering around me. But we cannot metamorphose backwards or prematurely, nor can we tear out of our chrysalis without handicapping ourselves. If we are in a stage of transition, we must take our time as mush, ill-defined and questioning and growing in our own way, to become the strong and exquisite butterflies we were made to be. Otherwise how will the other caterpillars know what to aspire to?