I’ve been thinking.
There’s a spider building a web in the corner of my hearth. I’ve been watching her work. Occasionally, she stops to examine a section of weaving, decides that it is all wrong, and busily takes it apart to be rewoven to her satisfaction. I read somewhere that a spider’s line contains the strength of a bridge cable, but it’s her inner strength that interests me.
Last week I accidentally caught her web in my feather duster. By the next morning she had woven a new one. She never shows frustration; she’s simply determined – and patient. She’s amazing – so patient and perfecting in her creation – so patient in waiting for her food. If only I could learn such patience; but I fear I am destined by nature to have a finger in every pot. There is always a small pile of books stacked at my bedstead, markers indicating where I stopped in my reading. Does everyone read books simultaneously like this, grabbing at words as if there will never be enough time to devour them all? I dash from task to task, from this idea to that, and in between, I am lost in some reverie of the moment.
This frenzy of thought and activity has become my work, and I take it very seriously. Soon the hot southern sun will be high in the sky, and my garden will beg to be watered and weeded, tidied and admired. Birds will call from the great oak in the yard for their daily sprinkling of seed.
Squirrels will chatter for their corn. There’s laundry to be done, but the computer and my novel-in-progress calls. There’s a border of brambles and berries waiting to be hung in the bedroom, and the pencil cactus begging to be repotted since he’s growing like a lanky teenager, all elbows and knees.
And my cat begs to be held and petted. These things – the house, the garden, my mind, are my work. Not, perhaps, the stuff of high industry, but meaningful nevertheless – and satisfying. I have been lucky in my life to have work that satisfies. When my children were very young, I had first college and then my free-lance writing, and, of course, them – a job of negligible pay but just rewards. Later, I had a dozen gratifying years of teaching.
Yes, I have been very lucky. Work should create value in our lives. To get involved, to do something well, and to find meaning in what you do, to be satisfied- these things make work sacred, even if we are participating in mundane tasks like cutting the crusts off the bread and pressing a cookie cutter into what would otherwise be an ordinary peanut butter sandwich for a child. Ordinary, everyday, but never humdrum. Never boring. When everything we do is art and everything we do provides satisfaction, then our world bursts with the meaningful – like the spider’s. If we approach our lives with joy, even the smallest task is infused with meaning, and we are fulfilled. Americans, especially, have been brainwashed to think that it is only our peak experiences, our greatest accomplishments that have meaning. We tend to live our lives waiting for life to “happen” to us. If we never reach the mountaintop, we despair, say the climb was “all for nothing.”
What if we’re very wrong?
What if life is not lived at the top of the mountain?
Once you get there, after the shouting and the initial thrill have gone, what is there really to do, after all, but climb down again?
What if life- life with meaning and purpose and satisfaction- were actually lived, not at the peak, but on the sides, in the struggle and in the climb?
What if we stopped often to pick wild flowers from a sunny crevice and string them in our hair, to watch the clouds change and the weather come, to notice the shape of the most challenging rock face and wonder at its creation?
What if we live every day as if we will die tomorrow?
What would happen then to crime and anger, jealousy and hatred, petty hurts, abuses? What if we approached all of life with a steadfast calm, no matter how difficult the problem?
What if we said, “This, too, shall pass,” to every hardship?
Who would we then be? And how much of the sacred would each day hold?
What if every day we spun our web and had it swept away by the broom, only to spin it again with infinite patience and a new design?
What if we sat back satisfied at the end of every day, knowing that we had accomplished?
Would you be different in your spider-self?