A Story of Struggle

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.” ~ William Goldman

I like stories of struggle. Not because I enjoy struggling or seeing other people struggle, but because there is a strength of character and wisdom earned from struggle that could never be honed by anything else. Today, I’m sharing with you one of my favorite stories about struggle, one I always call to mind when things get tough and I need to be reminded that there is purpose even in difficulty.

This story is about a man and an emperor moth. There are many variations and attributions of this story, but it seems to be mainly attributed to British naturalist and biologist Alfred Russel WallaceI paraphrased a version of it below:

The story has it that Wallace once found a cocoon of an emperor moth. He saw that there was a narrow opening in the cocoon, through which the moth was attempting to emerge. So he sat for several hours watching it, eagerly anticipating the moment the moth would finally escape its cocoon, spread its majestic wings, and fly free.

After a long while, though, the moth still hadn’t escaped its cocoon. In fact, it appeared as though it was stuck; it had stopped making any progress on its way out. Wanting to help the moth out, Wallace took a blade and slit the rest of the cocoon open.

The moth emerged easily, but its body was swollen and its wings wrinkled. Wallace continued to wait hopefully, expecting the moth’s body to contract in time and its wings to expand once it recovered from the ordeal. But those never happened. The moth was reduced to creeping about on its swollen belly, its wings never developing any more than the shriveled sheets that they were. It soon died, never having tasted the glory of flight and the life it was meant to live.

Wallace realized that the moth’s struggle to ease out of that narrow opening in its cocoon turned out to be a necessary process for growth. It was nature’s way of forcing the fluid from the moth’s body into its wings, so that its wings would develop the size and strength it needed for flight. Because the moth was prematurely freed from its struggle through the small opening, there was no force to squeeze the fluid into those wings. The moth may have thus gotten out of its cocoon easily, but the price was spending the rest of its short life crawling on its belly and never realizing its full potential.

The struggle was painful to watch, and probably even more painful to experience, but it was nonetheless necessary if true freedom and flight were to be possible.

What are your thoughts about this story? Have you ever tried “cutting the cocoons” of others, only to see later on that what you’ve done—though well-meaning—has crippled them from true growth? Or have you yourself ever cut your own cocoon, or asked someone to do it for you, only to turn out with crippled wings and unable to take flight?

· · • ♣ • · ·

That’s just some food for thought for us all this Sunday. Also, taking this moment to let y’all know I’ll be on a blogging break for the rest of this month, and the next. Be back this July. Toodles! 🙂

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74 thoughts on “A Story of Struggle

  1. A very interesting story.

    Sounds like one of Aesop’s fables or Christ’s parables- full of great symbolic meanings about life.

    Since it’s been 50 years since his death, I’ ve been watching some of the speeches of and interviews with Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on YouTube.

    What a contrast with most of the politicians of his day and all of the politicians of our day.

    A politician who actually gave honest thoughtful and powerfully insightful answers.

    You could tell that he actually genuinely felt other people’s pain as opposed to slimeball politicians who claim “I feel your pain”.

    I think if he hadn’t been assassinated, he’d have been an even greater President than his brother John F.

    As I was watching him, I think what made him so different than most politicians and his ability to relate to people and carefully analyze situations was some grief born out of a great personal tragedy.

    And of course that great personal tragedy was the assasination of his brother John.

    That contributed to Robert Kennedy’s greatness.

    Although it was a tragedy, Robert F. Kennedy would have never achieved the greatness he did I personally believe unless that had happened.

    An even greater tragedy I think was Bobby Kennedy’s own assasination.

    America and the world would have been vastly different and more compassionate I believe had Robert F. Kennedy lived and been elected President.

    Of course how one reacts to tragedy makes one.

    John and Bobby’s younger brother Teddy was a total windbag and scumbag (to say nothing of being neo-Marxist in his leanings whereas his brothers John and Robert were genuine anti-Communists) whose idea of saving a drowning woman was to roll up the car windows and swim 🏊‍♂️ away.

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  2. I have been telling people for decades that life is pain and am glad that you also are sharing this. The largest pain in life is the birth process. We are warm , secure, automatically fed and cared for. We can hear our mom’s heart and can never be as close to a human that loves us than that. Then there is the pain of the exit. Their is light, blinding through our lids because it is our first light not filtered by mom’s body. There is air and dryness when all of life before that was warmth and moisture. Mom’s heart is never going to be that near again. A whole new life is forced upon us all in a minute or so. The physical pain and GOD knows what kind of rejection pain will never be this bad again. Pain for the rest of our life keeps mus moving as we cannot have that ultimate physical security again. I am old and have many pains, some earned, but the joy of still being alive keeps me moving. That you share the facts or thoughts or even fantasy of these things are a gift to those of us that strive to wake up each day.

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  3. This reminds me of the saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”. Sometimes we feel we are helping someone by doing something for them, or by “pulling them out of their cocoon” but really we may be hindering them like the moth. I really like this story and how we can compare it to our own life. I am definitely going to save it!

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  4. I find hope in this story as I see now that much of my life has come easily and I thought struggle meant “bad” or “wrong.” Now I’m seeing it as opportunity to be shaped. When you are in frustrating, unfruitful, or dark places there comes a moment when you know you have to find a way to breakthrough.

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  5. Great story.Thanks for sharing. It reminds me of parenting, and those who make life sometimes too easy for their children because they can’t stand to watch the suffering. This parable could help many parents have the courage to let their fledglings work out their own solutions for how to grow wings and fly.

    Liked by 3 people

    • My pleasure, Rhona! I agree; this story does provide such a valuable reminder for parents, especially those prone to “helicopter parenting.” Love the continuation of the analogy about children being fledglings needing to grow their own wings to be able to fly on their own. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! 🙂

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  6. Wonderful story. I agree that humans need struggle in their lives to become successful, and I feel that this story touched that. Although, i do hope Wallace learned his lesson. But at the end, it’s all worth it. We all have dark days but we must overcome them to learn.
    We’ll miss you until July.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I spent my life looking for healing, and when I found it I tried to heal the world…but it didn’t want to be healed. It too needed that struggle to find their own wisdom, to allow it to fill their hearts so that they too could fly.
    Lesson: ‘Build a field and they will come!’…emphasis on the ‘they will come’, when they are ready, not when I am 😀

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  8. I’ve never heard this story before, but it is a classic. What you give us with this post is so valuable for, in life, there are ‘dues to be paid’ before achieving success ~ for without the struggle and without the experiences gained, we are incomplete. Like with the moth, without being fully developed, we would be unable to do what is necessary to move forward in life. Love this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Randall! Yes, that’s exactly what I tell my students when I hear them complaining too much about all the work and hardship they’re facing. We need to pay our dues first before we can expect to achieve success.

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  9. I agree with the story. Struggle is a part of growth, we need to learn how to endure, in order for us to be prepared and ready for what’s really out there. We will miss you, surely. See you in July. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  10. • “Tough Love” • Trust-fund kids.• That which you earn is treasured over that which you are given.

    (Of course, this one moth could have been deformed from birth. Do this 100 times with 100 different collected cocoons and if the statistics holds, so does the parable. And if not? But that would ruin the story no?)

    I especially liked your line: “but because there is a strength of character and wisdom earned from struggle that could never be honed by anything else.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hahaha! A very interesting take. I guess testing the validity of the findings through statistics would be ideal to discover its true implications. If the statistics don’t hold, then maybe a different lesson would be gleaned from the parable. Can’t think of a particular one, but maybe something about the accident of birth? 😀

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  11. This makes me think of a time I about gave up on a butterfly that my daughter tried to hatch out of a cocoon. I was so close to throwing it away. Finally, it came out a beautiful butterfly. I’m so glad I didn’t give up on it.

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  12. Loved this story. It is very applicable to parenting. The urge to make life easier for your children is incredibly strong, but must be resisted if the children are to grow into happy, resilient adults who are unafraid to take risks, and able to reach their full potential.

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