I don’t kill spiders. At least, not intentionally. That’s something you should know about me.
When they are discovered indoors, people shriek at the very sight of them, raising the weapon of their feet in self-defense. But I hear the shrieks and come running. If I make it in time, I can save a life. I understand that they are only little creatures who have lost their way. To fear them is to misinterpret their purpose. They are not here for us.
I put them in cups and take them back outside. “Go on, little buddy” I’ll sometimes say. I watch them go home.
Surely it is compassion that inspires this, a certain empathy for all living things, who wish for no more and no less than longevity. To continue is the universal ambition. To help others achieve this is kindness.
But what keeps me from harming these little spiders is more than the recognition that they are living things. It is admiration for the lives they are living. It is the way their intricate webs of lace are nothing more than a means of survival. They do not strive to create beauty, and yet, their soft weavings adorn the world.
I’ve never had to work as hard as a spider for any meal. They are patient. They are planners. They devise elegant traps. So perhaps it is only the balance of the world that they should so often be trapped themselves – within buildings, under shoes, inside their own tiny bodies, unable to be anything else.
Yet, it is empathy that keeps me from accepting that balance. It is experience that gives my heart to both the trappers and the trapped. It is wisdom that reminds me they are often one in the same. I have been both. I have spun webs of words to snare a thought. I have felt trapped inside my own life. I have gone about the busy work of surviving only to later discover its beauty. I have been, all my life, like the spiders.
Once, in India, I found myself among a group of trees adorned with prayer flags. There was no order to them, no logical design. They criss-crossed and overlapped and twisted over each other. Some had lost the vibrancy of their color in the elements. Others shined in their freshness. They blew gently in the breeze.
I thought of this web, of this weaving of prayers, of the people who created it. I thought of the way these beautiful offerings adorn the world. And although I’ve never really understood what prayer is, I thought, maybe it is this.
Maybe it is simply going about the busy, important work of surviving. Maybe it is compassion, and empathy, and kindness. Maybe it is about trapping and feeling trapped. Maybe it is patience and planning. Maybe it is understanding balance and learning how to accept it. Maybe it is about saving what we can save.
Maybe it is as easy as following the example of the spiders, their beauty a by-product of their purpose. When their webs get torn down, they build new ones. They never stop creating. Their very lives depend on it. This is something close to prayer.
Tonight I found a spider in my kitchen. I scooped him up in a cup and walked him out into the yard. “Go on, little buddy” I told him, shaking him out onto the grass. Above me the sky was spun with elegant cobwebs of constellations. The intricate webs of this world are enough to catch my heart.