Once the face of the Earth was covered with caterpillars of all kinds, shapes, sizes and colors. These caterpillars led fairly mundane lives by most account—their days generally taken up foraging for food, occasionally fighting with each other over a choice leaf, and generally trying to avoid being eaten by the ravenous birds that wheeled overhead. They were not unhappy with their lot in life—they were only caterpillars after all—but they were not particularly happy, either. In fact, most of them went through their short, difficult lives often wondering if there wasn't more to being a caterpillar than simply foraging for food and avoiding being food.

One day several of the caterpillars hit upon an idea. They had an idea that they could protect themselves from the elements and the always hungry birds by constructing a type of blanket they produced from their own bodies. This wrapping they called a "cocoon" and, once a few of the wiser caterpillars demonstrated how this cocoon was built and how well it protected them, soon nearly all the other caterpillars began building one of their own.

Some, however, thought the idea not only silly—after all, there was no proof a cocoon would really protect them from anything—but, worse, it was nothing more than a feeble attempt to escape the brutal realities of the caterpillar life, so they refused to build one of their own. They would stay on the ground and carry on as before, thank you; they didn't need any of this "cocoon" nonsense.

But the overwhelming majority of the caterpillars thought the cocoon a great idea and soon the trees and bushes were filled with their handiwork. Not surprisingly, there were almost as many different types of cocoons as there were caterpillars and, of course, each caterpillar thought their cocoon superior to all the others—sometimes even getting into heated debates over it. This, of course, only reinforced the belief among the "ground dwellers"—those that refused to build cocoons—that they were wise to have not gotten involved in all this cocoon foolishness. They couldn't even agree among themselves which cocoon was superior, they laughed, and they consistently waved off the cocoon dwellers pleas that they join them for their own safety.

The cocoon dwellers, however, knew it was the ground dwellers who were the foolish ones. They were at least protected from the cold and rain, and since the cocoons tended to blend in with the leaves, it made them harder for the birds to see. As such, it did provide safety—at least to some degree. Clearly theirs was the better way, but despite that their pleas to their brethren below often fell on deaf ears.

This uneasy standoff went on for some time until one day something strange happened. Some of the cocoon-bound caterpillars began to change. They began to grow wing-like appendages on their backs that seemed to suggest that a caterpillar could somehow, in some strange way they could not quite understand, be more than a caterpillar. In fact, some of them began to believe that which was clearly impossible for any caterpillar to do, and that was that they might fly.

This, of course, was nonsense. Caterpillars were not built for such a thing and it was foolish to even suggest such an idea. Yet, how could one explain that many of the cocoon dwellers—especially those that had been in the cocoons for a good long time—seemed to be sprouting wing-like appendages? They were slicked back and tightly folded behind their backs because of the close confines of the cocoon they were in, it was true, but they were wings nonetheless.

Worse, some of the winged caterpillars began entertaining the notion they might really be able to fly. The problem was they would never find out if they remained in the tight confines of their cocoon. In order to spread their wings it would be necessary to break the cocoon—even, perchance, destroy it—in order to test their theory.

It was a frightening idea. The cocoon had given them the security and safety they had sought. How could they destroy it as if it meant nothing? Further, what guarantees did they have that once they broke free they wouldn't simply drop to the ground as some who had constructed the flimsiest cocoons had occasionally done? And wouldn't they leave themselves in the open where the birds could easily pick them off? It was foolhardy to even consider the idea, they were told by the oldest and wisest of the caterpillars. Simply ignore their new appendages and remain safe in their cocoon was the best advice.

Some—many, in fact—took the elder's advice and remained locked in their cocoons, safe and secure the rest of their lives, always wondering what it might have been like to fly but never finding the courage to break out and see. For some, the cocoon was woven so tight and thick there was no way to break it open even if they wanted to, so they didn't even bother to try. Fortunately, after awhile many of those who refused to leave the cocoons saw their wings shrivel up and fall off, relieving them of their burden of wondering and restoring peace to the cocoon.

Some, however—just a few at first, but than others—decided to take a chance. Working secretly and timidly at first, they quietly tore a small hole in their cocoons, just large enough to get a glimpse of the sunshine and blue sky outside. Excited now—though still very much afraid—they made the hole a little larger until they at last had enough room to spread their wings and let the warm air stir around them. In doing so they discovered that the wings they had kept so tightly folded behind them were, when spread, things of breath-taking beauty. Ochres and golds and burgundies and blacks—all the colors of the rainbow it seemed—shimmered from their surface, glimmering in the sunlight in a uniquely distinctive but strangely harmonious riot of color. Intoxicated with the beauty around them, they finally worked up enough courage to split their cocoon apart and push off into the air, using their great winged appendages to steer them through the currents of sunshine.

Free! They were free from the confines of their cocoons for the first time in their life, and they wheeled higher and higher into the sky until they could clearly see the forest below them in all its radiant glory. It was so beautiful it took their breath away, and they realized for the first time in their lives that they were never intended to be caterpillars at all. They were always meant to be what they now were—butterflies! Free and beautiful and overcome with joy, they wheeled overhead in ecstasy, in love with one another and the world below. At last, they had become what the Creator had intended them to be. At last, they were themselves.

The other caterpillars below—both those in their cocoons and those on the ground—refused to look up or even acknowledge the strange, new creatures flying peacefully overhead. There was nothing to see up there, they shouted in unison, except the ravenous birds that lived in the air. For the first time they spoke as one in strongly discouraging anyone from trying to fly. "It was too dangerous!" they cried in unison.

It was one of the few times the ground dwellers and the cocoon dwellers ever agreed on anything.