When I was a child, spiders were fascinating to me. Most of my life has been spent with either a prevailing wonder, or a general fear, of spiders. This seems, to me, to be analogous to my relationship to the divine. Even, to some degree, my relationship to life itself.
What follows are six, very brief stories of encounters with these creatures. All with a brief description and all with a brief lesson. Though the lessons may only pertain to me, my hope is that they will also be of some benefit to you. Regardless of how you feel about spiders, the lessons are timeless.
Spiders in the Church House
In an old Southern Baptist, conservative, but loving church, there was a library. It seemed like an afterthought in a small room, built on the side of a landing of stairs. It was filled with religious books, but also books donated by parishioners with a love for learning.
Each week, for nearly a year of my five year-old life, I checked out the same book on spiders. Maybe because it freaked out my mom. Maybe because I loved the pictures. For whatever reason, I loved the book.
When I think back on that time in my life, I smile. Rather than resenting my conservative upbringing, or how I learned about God, remembering that book reminds me to cherish those times. The view of God I was taught may not have been my view now, but it was an honest effort to interpret the lives that those in that group knew.
Without having been where I was… I would not be where I am now.
Little Miss Muffet
“Little Miss Muffet, sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey. Along came a spider, and sat down beside her, and frightened Miss Muffet away.”
Growing up, there were so many questions. Who was this woman? What is a tuffet, curds, and whey?
My biggest question, however, was who’s fault was this? It was always hard for me to cast blame on the spider. Even at a young age, I knew that the fear in Miss Muffet, was probably a bit irrational, and that the running away (I imagined her running), was an overreaction.
Fear causes us to react in irrational ways.
These were the stuff of legends. They bit you and you died. I was well into my teenage years before I saw one, but my childhood was filled with the fear what they might be. It was a relief to me when one of my sons discovered one under a rock, early on in his life. Simply to alleviate the fear.
Female black widows are known for killing male black widows after they mate. Which, as it turns out, is mostly, not true. Bad wrap, bad press, miscommunication. This happens from time to time.
Do I still get a rush after seeing one? Yes. Do I believe it is a death sentence for them hanging around my home? No. Does a part of me have some compassion for the horrible reputation they have? Actually, I do.
Relationships are the decisions of individuals to interact in some way, and the opinions of their family, friends, and society, should matter very little.
The Itsy Bitsy Spider
“The itsy, bitsy, spider climbed up the water spout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out. Out came the sun and dried up all the rain. The itsy, bitsy, spider, went up the spout again.”
This drove me nuts. There seemed to be no end. Was this some story to keep me motivated? To encourage me to keep trying? To buy an umbrella?
I suppose, if there is any good news, it is that the sun dried up all the rain. Maybe it is good that the spider kept trying. What was so important about that spout in the first place? For the record, if I was a spider, I might climb outside the water spout, and in that way, the eave of the house would keep me dry as I made my way to where I was going. Unless, of course, the spider wanted to be “in” the water spout.
Another way of looking at this, and more good news, might be found this way. People pay good money to go to water parks and slide down “spouts”. Maybe this was all a game for the spider. Maybe, just maybe, this is a story about playing with life.
How we perceive a thing, changes the lessons we learn.
Webs In the Woods
Do I need to even explain this? In the early light of day, walking a well-trodden path, and immediately being covered in the clinging web a spider, spun the night before. It. Freaks. Me. Out.
Of course, what worries me more than the sensation of the web, is that I might “have a spider on me”. No fault of the spider. Really no fault of mine. We just met on our paths in an abrupt way. The spider may well be upset that I destroyed its night’s work.
What happens when we first hit the web, is the racing of our minds to the future and the unknown. We imagine the spider somewhere on our person, then how big it must be, and then how much damage it might do if it bit us. We react to our fear of the unknown and not our rational knowing. There are always the colliding of metaphorical spider webs in our lives.
Just because a fear is imagined, does not mean it should be create a reaction.
E.B. White wrote this book, and it was published in 1952. By the time I came around, it was an animated movie. There is so much to love in this story.
I was introduced to what friendship, longing, being an underdog, and life, could mean.
This is also how I was introduced to death and the process of dying. That things in this world, though absolutely beautiful, are temporal, impermanent, and fleeting.
Was this a hard lesson for a toddler just beginning kindergarten? Yes, and in some ways, they are hard lessons still. Charlotte taught me to brag on others and that what we leave when we pass into our next adventure matters. Wilbur taught me never to give up. Templeton taught me that even rats have their merits. And what about Fern Arable? She taught me that great stories often begin with one act of kindness.
There is always more to living than the death and dying of it all.
Of course, there are other spider stories from my childhood. Spider-man, writing spiders counting teeth, the feeding techniques. What I know is this. Spiders get a bit of a bad reputation, but usually through no fault of their own. It does not affect the world much if I decide to either kill, or remove, a spider. But it does make world of difference in me.
We are all, at times, a spider in someone’s life. Either a teacher or a nuisance, or both. Be both, with the compassion, kindness, grace, and wisdom, of the wonderful person you suspect yourself to be. Love is all there is.