As breakfast warmed in the oven Sunday morning, I went outside to check on the milkweed growing in our yard.
I walked around the plant for another angle.
5… 6… 7… 8…
By the time I made my way around, I had counted 10 monarch caterpillars clinging to stems and the undersides of leaves, each munching its way toward a most amazing transformation.
This milkweed plant has provided amazing scientific and spiritual lessons for my family. We watched aphids nearly destroy it and ladybugs move in to dine on them to save the plant. We witnessed circling butterflies land upon re-emerging leaves and deposit their minuscule eggs upon them. We marveled at growing caterpillars, despaired when we thought we lost the plant to milkweed bugs, then felt new hope as the plant rebounded and the caterpillars became more plentiful. We gasped at the sight of a newly formed chrysalis and eventually at the new butterfly emerging from its slumber.
It’s our very own tree of life.
I think what we enjoy most about this milkweed, however, is that we never planted it. We did have a small milkweed plant in a pot across the yard once upon a time. We had purchased it to attract butterflies, but alas, it was destroyed by aphids and the butterflies never came. It was some time later, long after that plant was dead, that we noticed something growing and overtaking our planter and realized what it was… a descendant of our potted milkweed. These plants are well known for spreading easily and none of you out there with green thumbs are probably surprised, but we found it utterly miraculous. Out of a death, new life emerged, and every time we thought it was the end, the plant fought for survival. And that survival instinct didn’t just save itself. It became the nesting place for generations of monarchs.
The cycles of this milkweed, seemingly without a future and then reclaiming its longevity, remind me of the cycles of the moon. The Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle, with the months beginning with the first slivers of silver moon after the darkest nights. I love that Rosh Chodesh, the new month, starts when the lunar light is dimmest. We don’t celebrate when the moon appears full and round and bursting. We celebrate when it is emerging from its darkness, when it can hardly be seen.
Perhaps that is how we are to celebrate ourselves too. We don’t have to wait to be 100% joyful, 100% healthy, 100% issue-free in order to honor ourselves. The time to rejoice is when we just start seeing that sliver of light in ourselves. That is our personal Rosh Chodesh… not a day of wellness, but our first day toward wellness.
When we feel farthest from our gladness, like a moon blocked from the sun, may we try to remember that we are not lost just as the moon is not lost. As the return of the light of the moon is definite, so are our personal returns.
Please join us for some food, friendship and community this Friday, November 6, at Cool Shul’s Shabbat at Big Red Sun. We will share dinner at 6:30pm, a family friendly, short Shabbat gathering and Torah reading at 7pm, and will follow with dessert. For details and info about what you can bring to share, click here.