A lonely mom receives a heaven-sent message.
After my son, Scott, graduated from high school he took a job in North Carolina near his father. Two thousand miles suddenly separated me from the person who’d been the focus of my life for 18 years. “With two dogs, a cat and a donkey to take care of, I’ve got no excuse to feel lonely,” I told myself. “This just means I’ll have more time to do all the things I couldn’t do when I was tied down.” I went through my usual chores on the farm, played with the dogs, fed the animals.
As the days went by, I missed Scott more and more. I’d always been able to take care of myself, but now I seemed to need Scott’s help constantly. Where was he when I needed to get a tool from the top shelf, or to move something heavy, or to change a tire on the car? Most of all, I just missed having him to talk to. I was lonely, and sitting alone in the evening over the supper table, I prayed: I knew this day would come, Lord, but why does it have to be so hard?
I went to get some dog food out of the tack room, a sort of storeroom in back of the house where I keep odds and ends. On my way out, I noticed a spider building her web across the top corner of the doorway. I’m not a fan of spiders—especially when they’re as big as a quarter, like this one—so I reached for a hoe to tear down the web. The spider was utterly preoccupied with her work, like a craftsman. Her delicate creation came together before my eyes and it seemed like a shame to interrupt her. I considered for a moment, then addressed the spider.
“It won’t work,” I said. “I come in and out of here a dozen times a day, and I don’t want your web in my hair. Sorry.” With that I took the hoe, tore down the web, and watched the giant spider skitter away in the grass.
She was back the very next morning, in the exact same spot, busily rebuilding. I stared for a moment, then reached for the hoe again.
“Like I said yesterday, ole gal, you need to find a different spot.” Then I twisted the hoe round and round, catching the spider in her own web. I carried her far into my backyard, shook the hoe and watched her fall to the ground, disappearing beneath my lilac bush.
The third morning, I stopped short as I entered the tack room and chuckled. The spider was back in the same corner of the door frame, her web almost completed again. “You don’t give up, do you?” I asked in disbelief. I reached for the hoe, but paused. She wants her web where she wants it, I thought, and that kind of perseverance should pay off. I stepped back and watched her long legs busily knitting the strands of web. She stopped and seemed to look at me in turn, as though saying, “You tear it down, I’ll build it back.”
“You win,” I said to her.
I went to my workshop, fetched hammer and nails and a short piece of lath, which I nailed across the corner of the door, just beneath the web. “There now, that will remind me to duck and you can borrow that corner for now. I won’t even charge you rent.” I glanced at my neighbors’ window and smiled. They’d really think I was lonely if they saw me talking to a spider.
For the next few weeks, the spider and I were close neighbors. I’d chart her progress every morning when I went out to do the feeding or to fetch a tool from the tack room. Sometimes I’d stand and admire her intricate work, and often I gave her a friendly “hello.” One afternoon, I noticed a smaller spider in the web beside her. I consulted a nature book and confirmed that my big spider was indeed the female, and more than likely a family was on the way.
Soon the male disappeared, and not long after I spotted an egg sac. I began to understand her persistence in building her web in my sheltered doorway. She was planning for the future, thinking about protecting her young. I could certainly understand that.
Autumn was just a breath away now, and the low clouds began to cover the mountains with their load of dripping, foggy drizzle. The fall had always meant back-to-school clothes for Scott, carving jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween, rowdy boys making me laugh around my dinner table. I was not looking forward to this autumn, though, or to the winter that would follow, the too-short days, the relentless snow and the long lonely nights.
One particularly dreary day, I walked out back to the tack room to fetch some birdseed. I was feeling so down, I didn’t even glance up at my spider as I entered. The room was filled with the relics of Scott’s enthusiasm, baseball bats, deflated footballs, a motorcycle helmet dented from all the spills he’d taken on his dirt bike. Pausing, I let my finger drag a line through the dust on his weight set and swallowed the lump in my throat. Tears welled in my eyes.
Let him go, I thought. I had heard that advice so often in the last few months, from friends and family, magazine articles and self-help books. I’d searched incessantly for some nugget of truth to help me through this painful process. Lord, I’m trying. But it’s a real leap of faith.
Sighing deeply, I scooped up a cupful of birdseed and turned back toward the door. At that moment, the afternoon sun burst through a gap in the clouds and a bright beam of light came through the door of the tack room, illuminating the spider’s web. I gasped. A hundred tiny angels, flashing bright as raindrops, hung in its crisscrossing strands. As I stared in wonder, I realized that these were baby spiders, that the eggs had hatched, and already, as the mother watched from the uppermost corner of the home that she had built, her young were making their way to earth.
A soft wind blew through the tack room door, and I watched along with the mother as the little spiders slid down, each on a single strand of web, and scurried off as soon as their legs touched the ground. It only took moments before all the babies were gone without a trace. My spider sat alone again in the web she’d built.
Now that’s what I call a leap of faith, I thought. I admired all the hard work and courage it had taken her to build her web. And for what? Just to make sure those babies were safe till their feet touched the ground. But crazy as it may sound, when I looked at that spider bouncing in the breeze on her empty web, I’d swear she seemed proud, even radiant.
The next morning, when I went into tack room, she was gone. The sight of her empty web filled me with a sad feeling, and I recalled the sight of it lit with sunlight, the little silver angels flying away. I knew that the spider had gone on to build different webs, just as strong, elsewhere. She had fulfilled this role, part of which was to let go with grace and dignity. “I’ll leave this web as a reminder,” I decided.
Part of my job as a parent, maybe the hardest part, was to let my son walk away. But I knew that I had built him a strong web to grow in, and that if I took this leap of faith, if I had the strength and the courage to watch him fall, his feet would land safely on the ground.
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