Butterflies: Or, We’re All Evolving

Issue 208— October 17, 2022

We celebrated my husband’s life on the first day of the past week, Sunday, October 9. Those are words I never wanted to write, speak, or even think. Yet like many difficult things in life, we have to face them head on, and the only way through them is through them, into the next phase.

I was told afterwards that butterflies fluttered about my head when I told the story of why he volunteered to work the butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

A beautiful butterfly sipping on a lemon slice at American Museum of Natural History’s butterfly conservatory.

Alex wanted passionately to become a volunteer at the museum he had loved since he was a child in Brooklyn. Starting in 1996, he was commuting two weeks each month from Arizona to New York. I had taken the position of president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, necessitating my presence in New York where the headquarters are. Not surprisingly, Alex wanted to do something meaningful when in the city.

At first, he was told there were no openings for part time volunteers. Not one to take “No” for an answer, Alex persisted. In his usual determined way, he figured out how to get what he wanted.

Upon learning that most of the volunteers didn’t want to work in the then-new butterfly exhibit because it was very hot and humid, he offered to do it. Once he had insinuated himself into the volunteer ranks and formed relationships, the staff saw how committed he was, and they found a permanent place for him.

That was the start of his 24-year career as an earth and space explainer, information desk worker, and tour guide. He took this responsibility seriously, studied hard to learn the science that was far afield from his daily work as an insurance executive. Soon everyone in the museum knew this very alive and engaged human and he loved bantering with all of them. He volunteered there until the week before he was hospitalized with infections that would take his life.

The memorial was a beautiful event and truly a celebration of a well-lived life, with many laughs just as he would want, among the moving tributes from our children, grandchildren, and friends.

Since then, and since people told me about the butterflies flying around my head, I have been contemplating the butterflies. Besides their fluttering, delicate, colorful beauty, butterflies teach us about the phases and stages of our own lives. Though a butterfly typically lives only about a month once it is in its adult phase, the evolutionary process in which it goes from egg to larva or caterpillar phase, then pupa when it continues its metamorphosis within a nondescript cocoon, then emerges as the colorful adult butterfly, is a metaphor for the phases of our lives. There is never stasis, we are always changing, and that is both the majesty and the painful part of life.

Alex and I definitely evolved from this early stage of our relationship.

As I evolve into my next phase, where I must go forward without the love of my life by my side, I am nevertheless grateful for the 44 years we had, for the friends and family members who support and sustain me, and for having a meaningful mission: Take The Lead’s work to provide the leadership development programs that will enable us to come back from the pandemic and achieve leadership and pay parity for all women of all diversities and intersectionalities in the next three years.

Impossible, you say? Consider how the butterfly changes during its time. We can intentionally speed that evolution so that there is a true transformation that will make life better, with more justice and equity for everyone.

What are you conscious of evolving within your career or personal life right now? Drop a comment below and let’s discuss.

Photo from WWF.

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of five books, most recently Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she teaches “Women, Power, and Leadership” at Arizona State University and is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet Gloria Feldt.

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Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a nonprofit women’s leadership organization.