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  • Jenna Gleespen

Reflections from a COVID cocoon

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

A caterpillar slowly becomes a butterfly by sheltering itself inside a self constructed cocoon. Whilst it sounds like a beautiful transformation, one where a fluttering winged creature emerges from its temporary asylum, what actually takes place during this metamorphosis is quite the contrary. During its time in the cocoon, the caterpillar actually molts into a slimy, globby mess of what it once was. If one were to break open the cocoon during this conversion, an oozing, ugly mess would be what emerged. It was after weeks and weeks of lockdown due to the COVID-19 virus that I started thinking about just this.

For most of us in the world, like the caterpillar, we were forced to lock ourselves inside a cocoon of sorts. As we sat inside our homes, barred from usual social interaction, I could not help but think perhaps this would be a chance for society to molt, to transform into a better version of ourselves. But as Steinbeck once told us, “the best laid plans are of mice and men.” So alas, my theory had little bearing on what the reality of this virus was to bring.

At least for myself, the first week or two of lockdown felt easy, it felt blithe in a sense. It was a time to re-coup, to take a break from the stresses of the working world. Yet as the weeks carried into months, boredom settled in. My flat had been cleaned top to bottom, at least thrice, and my daily work was typically quickly completed without the distraction of going to meet friends at the pub, popping out to a shop for a quick look around, or calling up a friend to meet up and procrastinate on my usual workload. So of course, I started scouring the internet for anything to keep myself occupied. I worked on improving my French, I read books that sat on my shelves and gathered dust, I even attempted to learn to read music. The latter which was a complete failure.

I soon came to realise I was not the only one in this strange predicament of attempting to amuse myself with nonessential tasks. In fact, as I scrolled through post after post on Facebook, Instagram, and the like, I found my friends and acquaintances were doing the exact same. Some were learning to knit, some proclaiming their excitement in learning how to make banana bread, cooking new dishes, and spending idle time in a way that seemed appealing and useful. While I’m sure the banana bread was probably eventually mastered, or a new quilt was knitted which grandma would approve of endearingly, I had to wonder, what was it all for? No matter how great a new recipe may have turned out, or how well someone mastered the art of intertwining pieces of yarn, how does that truly benefit one in the end? Point blank, it does not. It became simply a distraction from the grim reality we were all facing. Even more so, it was a distraction from looking directly at ourselves.

What it comes down to is this: we as a society would much rather dive into absolutely meaningless endeavors than take this time given to look in the mirror and work on ourselves. It makes sense when you think about it. Learning to knit is much less stressful than taking a personal inventory of our inner selves, to face our shortcomings head on. This is why so many avoid therapy or shy away from criticism of any kind. Admitting our imperfections and undesirable traits is just no fun, nor is it an easy pill to swallow. However, I have to question why it is we as humans are so focused on the idea of self improvement, and we certainly are. It’s evident as self help books fly off the shelves at Waterstones and Barnes and Nobles in hopes of any suggestion on how to improve upon our mundane and fruitless lives. A few pages probably get turned, or if the book actually gets finished most tend to go right back to their old ways. Are we so afraid of what we might see in ourselves, of what we might hate, that we choose to ignore our issues which are so obvious once we hold up that reflective glass? I say yes.

This is why I feel so many will not come out of this global crisis as butterflies, but merely a gooey version of what we once were. So how do we remedy this exactly? How do we become that butterfly? I say we should take the time to truly transform, to molt, to break down into a disgusting version of what we once were before giving up and breaking open that cocoon too early. Only then can we escape the sheath we once knew and surface as a new, beautiful being.

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