This one’s anchor points are the ugly green plastic trash can that I roll to the road every couple of weeks and the pointy brick corner of the stoop. Its design is one long, looping strand ending in a bundle of filament that, at first glance, appears to be a miniature dandelion. It trembles the slightest bit as I bend over to examine it more closely, my breath a breeze that sends it swaying like a tiny trapeze.
I don’t generally bother spider webs. Don’t swat them out of hand to clear a corner. Don’t whisk them away from the window sill with a broom. Only when their residents are long gone, the strands caked with dust, can I bring myself to break their tenuous grip for the sake of tidiness.
This one, as far as I’m concerned, can dangle right here until a stiff wind comes barreling across the field or a rain cloud throws itself under the eaves of the carport.
I reach for the handle on the aluminum can that holds Owen’s dog food. My curled fist inadvertently brushes the long strand and the web collapses onto the back of my hand. And in that second, that half second I am bereft. Something beautiful and amazing has been lost. And at my hand. I can only stand and stare.
What is it about spider webs? Even the most ordinary — like the one I’ve just destroyed, the ones that aren’t large and showy geometric marvels, that aren’t tiny delicate jewels sprinkled with dew that sparkles in the morning light — are beautiful. Is it the fragility that so resembles our own?
Perhaps that is the answer. I am certainly fragile this morning. I am grieving the loss of someone I loved, still love and the drooping mass of protein seems just the metaphor. I wonder if standing here, staring, I may somehow absorb its meaning.
Because books are my solace, because I eat, digest and metabolize their words, because they so often hold truth when it can’t be found anywhere else, I find myself thinking of "Charlotte’s Web" — philosophy, theology and poetry disguised as a children’s book — wondering if in its words there is some way through the grief.
"Charlotte’s Web" is, of course, a story of unlikely friendship between a pig and a spider. As they are getting to know each other, Charlotte the wise spider tells Wilbur the naive pig that her web, delicate though it may be, is not easily broken. It “gets torn every day by the insects,” she points out and “a spider must rebuild it when it gets full of holes.”
Later, after she has saved Wilbur’s life by spinning words into her web, she tells him, “I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. ... By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.”
"Charlotte’s Web" is, in the end, a story of purpose, a story of enlightenment, and, perhaps most importantly, a story of redemption: a pig bound for slaughter saved by a spider unafraid of death.
I took a photo of the web before I destroyed it. I stare at the record of what is no more and remember its tender vulnerability, its gentle tension, its yielding without giving in.