Oct 21st, 2015

My Life Lesson from Butterflies

Zahra Khojastehpour

Volunteer Zahra Khojastehpour in a place she often describes as an oasis: Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

Zahra Khojastehpour has been volunteering at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden for over 4 years. This summer she spent time helping out in the Butterflies LIVE! exhibit. Her time here inspired her to write the following blog post.  I asked Khojastehpour how she ended up as a Garden volunteer. She explained, “I am too small to be of a positive effect on life on earth, or add much significant value. I thought, at least I can try to help and support generous efforts of others. I started to search for volunteer opportunities near where I work and live, and happily found Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. I am a true believer of love, and support Earth by supporting the resources it offers to all human kind.
I think continuous education of the public about maintaining environment is necessary and we need to steward the earth — leave in better shape, or at least unchanged. The beauty and vulnerability of butterflies reminds me of the abundant beauty of nature and how careless use may cause the destruction of this precious heritage.”

Here’s the story of  how volunteering at Butterflies LIVE! helped teach Khojastehpour how to find a new appreciation for her life:

by Zahra Khojastehpour, Garden Volunteer and Guest Blogger

A while back in a training class setting, I was asked what type of animal I would be if the choice was mine. For some reasons this was a hard question for me to answer. First of all I am a private person and I would have preferred to answer on paper, rather than talking about my choice as others were listening. But also, growing up in a city, Shiraz, Iran, unfortunately, I have not had the chance to see  many animals  compared to Americans. Except for stray cat or dog, birds, butterflies and insects, and on rare occasions, horse, donkey, or farm animals, we did not see as many creatures.  Also, I did not learn much about animals during my school years because our schools focused more on academics — math and physics in high school, and engineering in college.
My perspective was centered on what animals are useful for humans — what type of use we can get out of them. Is it good for eating its meat? Is it nice to watch or listen to?  I was the center of a world where everything was defined from my stand point. After living in the United States for a few years, I have learned more about the world of animals and also kindness to them as being living creatures. But I was still very far from the point where I was ready  to judge what animal I want to be. To be honest a little offended even by thinking of the subject. I was under impression that humans are the top of the God’s creation and thinking of myself as an animal was asking me to step down and select from a level inferior to me. Anyways,  not to show my discomfort or weakness, I thought hard and answered, “I want to be an animal who can fly in the sky, swim in the ocean, and run on the dirt. I do remember that I noticed the looks on my classmates faces like, “what an animal is she?”
I knew why I said that but I am not proud of it. Since residing in the U.S., the challenges of new life have put me into survival mode. I was working hard, but not enjoying myself. My focus was to establish my identity in this new society that I wanted to be part of. I wanted to be big and bold enough not to be pray for others. And I wanted to have enough means built into my nature to be able to escape any danger and defend myself in the face of challenges.  Now, I’ve matured,  5 years later,  I am a volunteering at Butterflies LIVE!. I help monitor the door into the exhibit and educate visitors as they come in, telling them to not worry if a butterfly lands on them, telling them to be careful not to step on the butterflies and making sure that no butterflies escape out of the controlled room where these beautiful tropical beauties are kept. To be a volunteer,  I had to learn about the life cycle of this magnificent creature. Going through the growing pains of maturity, and humbled by life experiences now, I finally knew that answer to that important question from class 5 years ago. I wanted to be a butterfly!

If you wonder why, the answer is in the butterfly life cycle. Butterflies have a very short life span compare to most creatures, especially humans. They experience four totally distinct stages of life cycle. Starting as an egg (which lasts 2 days to 2 weeks), I compare this with our time inside our mother’s body. The egg then becomes larva (lasting for 2 – 3 weeks). This can be considered equal to our infancy to adolescent years, where the primary concern for the larva is feeding to survive and growing physically. The third stage is pupa or chrysalis (lasting 2 – 8 weeks) where the creature hides in a hard shell and starts the transformation. Education and life-long experience is providing this type of transformation for us. The fourth and last stage is butterfly (lasting 1 – 6 weeks), in which this creature lives just to consume the least of our world and give back by reproducing. A butterfly’s beauty is beyond words to demonstrate.  In summary, with help of knowledge and experience, life gives us beautiful wings to come out of the hard shell of prejudice and fear. Those beautiful butterflies taught me the philosophy of life by flapping their wings and dancing in the air from flower to flower. If you focus on your joy of flying and dancing and everyone around you, you will enjoy your wings spread, with color and beauty.

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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