Recently I have spotted several monarch butterflies. They paid very special attention to the lilac up the road, as did I.
Butterflies in general captivate me. The transformation they undergo from egg to caterpillar to full fledged adult enthralls me. They are tenaciously delicate creatures. I never took physics, so I don’t understand how they can actually fly with any purpose. Like drunken kites, they flitter haphazardly, but somehow, they reach their destination.
The danaus plexippus plexippus (Latin for I can’t believe I’m flying)(I didn’t take Latin either) migrate north from southern Mexico. The journey of the monarch begins in March. By stages they eventually arrive in Canada, well north of the American border. It is a 2500 mile journey. The southward migration begins in September until they return to the Mexican states of Michoacán and México.
I’ve been playing with some math in my head. A healthy adult can walk about 25 miles a day. It would take me (assuming I’m healthy…and an adult) 100 days to walk the migratory pattern…one way. That would be a walk from Winnipeg to Mexico City.
Here’s the thing, the monarch colonies require a four-generation cycle to finish the journey. The butterflies that began the journey in April are not the butterflies that return to Mexico in November. The individual does not accomplish the journey, but the colony does. Let me say that again. THE INDIVIDUAL DOES NOT ACCOMPLISH THE JOURNEY, BUT THE COLONY DOES.
I think of Moses, leading the miserable and complaining Israelites out of captivity. After forty years of wandering (or wondering), God allows Moses to climb a mountain and see the Promised Land. He dies there, never reaching his destination.
The Israelites suffered greatly. They at least complained greatly. For most of their sojourn through the middle east, they repeated the refrain, “Let’s go back.” They would remember how much better slavery was. They had food. They had water. They had shelter. They had stability. They preferred captive stability to liberated chaos.
We, too, spent a season wandering and wondering. From March 15th to May 25th we wandered a desert filled with anxiety and solitude, death and living, despair and hope. We had our share of complaining. Even though we didn’t know where we were going, I believe we all knew we weren’t going back.
I think of Martin Luther King, Jr. His last speech referenced the Moses story:
I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
THE INDIVIDUAL DOES NOT ACCOMPLISH THE JOURNEY, BUT THE COMMUNITY DOES. We have a long way to go to racial equality. I have seen the promised land of deep care, communal compassion, limitless love, true mercy-filled justice for all. We may not get there, but our community will. We may not be the ones who create sustained changes to the cultural, political, religious, and economic systems. We may not be the ones who step into the promised land, but we will get to the promised land.
I love you.
I need you.
I hope for you.
Please be safe.