A Spider’s Legacy
Life, I believe, holds us captive long enough, if we’re lucky, to break us out of our cells. My release came one day in May while I was teaching at a minimum security prison. With no ventilation and inches of space between desks, the classroom confined fifteen men for three hours as we discussed the nature of small groups. I have taught this course for twenty years and mostly learned what I failed to teach, so I call the class “the Nature of Sleep.” It is actually a course on survival for a species that tends to fall asleep during daytime hours
thinking that life only exists in their heads.
One day, a spider drops on a desk, not knowing it was in a classroom for thinking men only. And this man, six feet three inches tall, two hundred and thirty pounds strong crashes his hand on that spider and says to the relieved group of survivalists, “It was only a spider.”
And me, I’m thinking that thinking takes us to that place where we speak as if in a social trance, saying, he is just an old man; she is only lazy; they are criminals. Only the poor, the young, the civilian casualties of war. We know the refrains: only wolves, only mosquitoes, only weeds.
A chorus of voices swelling our heads with expendable– smash them; remove them from our sight. Expendable–hunt them down with guns and chemicals. Expendable–flood the whole valley of forest and lizard, so we can have high resolution nights and get back to sleep.
Fifteen men over fifteen weeks talking about relationship and the fact of community; talking about the inseparability of everything and the butterfly effect of every small act. Talking and failing the only real test of their understanding of the course by smashing a spider. The only real lesson being that it is easy to fall asleep in a classroom, or anywhere, when concepts are mistaken for reality, when one’s thoughts confine the world to viewpoint.
THIS I BELIEVE as an educator: it is easy to pass a course on communication and to miss the lesson of communion, which is finally achieved on that day we want survival “bad” enough to let the spider live.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.