I’m sick today (Aug. 2) with yet another cold in a series of countless colds since I moved here. I am not exaggerating when I say that I’ve been ill more times these last eight months than I have in total in the past five years.
Countless people have told me that this is not unusual for new immigrants to Israel; that many get hit with stomach viruses or other infections thanks to new microbes and less sterile conditions. It could also be that I’m back to working in an office environment, in contact with more people on a day-to-day basis. It may have something to do with a change in diet or the stress that accompanies a big transition like a move across the world.
It could be any one of those things.
But as I sit here, with my bedroom door open, enjoying the breeze from the West, as well as the bugs that may fly in through the screenless opening, I acknowledge the great changes in me since I moved to a small kibbutz in Israel. In particular, the mass giving up of control that I held on to so dearly for most of my life; the letting go of fears that caused me to be angry and bitter; the welcoming in of blows to my ego; and the letting down of the strong guard I placed around me to deal with the pain I associated with being wrong and being hurt.
This all happened here in Israel? In eight months?
No. Not really. But the quiet that I have embraced here allows me to hear and see it.
Do I feel this sense of peace and calm all the time?
No way. But I am very clear that it exists for me now more than ever before.
Have I turned into a weird, hemp-wearing, sprout-eating, New Agey hippie? Some would argue I have been that hippie for years, and now I only blend in better with my environment.
A great transformation has and continues to take place for me here. It certainly didn’t start with my Aliyah in December, but has become more and more noticeable. I do not equate it with religion, per say, but it deeply moves my spirit. It’s overwhelming and confusing, at times, and, since I’m certainly not fully evolved, it can also be curious and anxiety-producing.
But just when that anxiety seems to be overtaking the curiosity and ease, I happen upon something or someone that is able to bring me back down to ground level. Sometimes it’s a wise friend or a colleague. Sometimes it’s a timely post on Facebook. Sometimes it’s a dream or a memory. Sometimes it’s an innocent suggestion out of the mouth of one of my children, or an angry accusation or a loving reminder from my husband.
Today, it was the butterfly.
I’ll tell you a little secret about me: Once upon a time, during a turbulent, yet exciting chapter of my life, I did something very bold and out of character for me.
I got a tattoo.
Okay, big deal, you think. Half the population between the ages of 18 and 40 have a tattoo, and of that 50%, a sure 10% have a tattoo with symbolism similar to mine.
It’s a butterfly.
But it was a big deal for me. My butterfly was a statement. It was a symbol that appeared time and time again before I was awake enough to recognize it. My butterfly, once a part of me, gave me strength to make extremely difficult choices. And she continues to remind me of who I am, but more important, who I strive to be.
And, of the great unknown that accompanies great change.
I read today something I never knew about the transformation a caterpillar makes into a butterfly. A Greek poet and naturalist named Theodore Stephanides wrote,
“How great a mystery of Nature is the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly! This is not, as one might imagine at first, a gradual process of transition and modification. The body of the caterpillar is not just reduced or enlarged, it is not pushed in here or pulled out there there, it is not moulded as it were into the body of a butterfly. Nor is this the case with any of the caterpillar’s organs.
No, a far more astounding sequence of events takes place. Inside the horny envelope of the pupa, the whole caterpillar melts and deliquesces into an amorphous semi-liquid pulp until nothing of its original form remains. Viewed as a sentient entity, that caterpillar has “died”. It has no organs with which to contact the outside world, no nervous system to afford it awareness, however dim, of its own existence.
But after death comes resurrection. Somewhere in that pultaceous mass a mysterious controlling force is concealed. Science is baffled and even the imagination is confounded. It cannot be and yet it is! Some wholly inexplicable directing influence now exerts its power and slowly cell by cell, organ by organ, a new being takes shape. A new organism is gradually built up that bears no resemblance to the lowly caterpillar either in function or in shape, and a glorious butterfly spreads its wings to the welcoming sun.”
I am not so grim as to suggest that my multiple illnesses over these past few months foretell my death or my “deliquesce into a semi-amorphous pulp.” But I can wrap my mind around the idea that my body is adjusting to the change my soul is making, and is naturally going to fight it. And perhaps all the illness is simply a sign of growth and of the beautiful shape my being is yet to take.
Jen Maidenberg is is a writer, editor, activist and former assistant editor at the Arizona Jewish Post. Visit her website at http://jenmaidenberg.com/.