Impermanence seen through six eyes.
The other day I was pushing my flat-tired bicycle up a slight hill in the grassy southeast section of Portland, watching the specks in the sunlight, and nearly ran my face into a huge, gorgeous spider web.
The web was stretched from a heavy leaf hanging on the right side of the sidewalk over to the skinny limb of a tree on the left side of the sidewalk. The maestro sat in the middle, precariously poised to be dozed into by an un-expecting human eyeball.
“What a silly spider!” I thought to myself. “He should really know better than to build a web right over the middle of the sidewalk.”
This logic is, of course, deeply flawed. Walking on, temporarily abandoning sidewalk for road, I realized this judgment was made based on two assumptions; one, the spider was male (to be honest, the thought of encountering a woman spider is simply too terrifying to consider); and two, the spider ought to possess some uncanny sixth sense, bestowed by eons of evolutionary miracles, allowing it to intuitively select the perfect spot to build a web.
I was gripped by the slight and usually useless omnipotence we sometimes experience with spiders or rivers or other wild things. I had seen a variable that the spider could not, a variable that no spider will ever see – a variable that would almost certainly result in destruction. But what was I to do? The web was spun, half air half light, sparkling in the filtered sun.
As I walked on with my broken bicycle, I thought about my own attempts to create beautiful webs of my own. Standing on the edge of the lovely tree limbs of circumstance, casting out silk strands of hope. Weaving impractical, flawed, heart-spun silver masterpieces. Enduring their loss when incomplete construction, hazardous placement, or unlucky gusts of wind tore them away.
Or eating them up myself for lack of other sustenance, as spiders do.
It bothered me that the spider, so intimate with the earth, so engaged in its own survival, couldn’t sense the alien sidewalk below him. If this spindly creature, made of myth and of pulp and steel, cannot keep himself out of harm’s way, what hope is there for me, with my dulled senses and big brain so far from the ground?
Because the world is all sidewalks and windstorms and falling leaves. Full of grey moths, beating webs away, blithely decimating silk strands with their wings.
So my webs will fall. The indulgent exercises in roundness and asymmetry, my steeled cocoons, will turn to dust. Float away.
It’s with a potent mix of melancholy and relief that I accept any permanence I seek to weave will always be an illusion. This is comforting to remember in a crisis or during a spell of particularly bad luck, but can shake me through when I’m content. Change can break your heart, but it gives celebrations their intoxicating, dizzy edge. Imagine navigating a world where spider webs never fell. It makes me itch.
Maybe this is one of those sixth sense superpowers – the awareness of impermanence, and spinning anyway.
Doomed to fade, as we all are, that unlucky spider web was a gossamer reminder of the fleeting beauties that are all around us, begging to be seen before they are gone.
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