I can’t quite resist the call to feel deeply sorry for elderly men who sit with both feet planted flat on the ground and their hands on their knees. Apparently, that specific posture is the universal sign for melancholy, and so it triggers in me intense feelings of sorrow. I may even get tearful at the sight of it for good measure. I admit, it’s completely illogical, but it’s a direct line to my bleeding heart. Why?
Perhaps I’m projecting — creating a connection to their perceived loneliness as a means of nurturing the hidden fear of loss within myself. But it’s how I heal sometimes: I theatrically hide my own need for compassion by fixating on the sympathy that I intuit some stranger needs instead, and then I impose it upon him.
When my husband left me and moved out of our house without warning, I was devastated by the destruction and loss of everything I had worked so hard to build. I should have been confident in asking for comfort, but it was a little too distasteful for me. Plus, having two small, very active children at home made licking my wounds trickier than ever before. But I was, nonetheless, emotionally disoriented and in need of some kindness. Therefore, the spider that set up camp in my orchids became the latest target for my displaced compassion. A spider.
For perspective, I confess that I have an irrational fear of spiders. Sometimes, the mere suggestion that a spider could be near will trigger cold sweats and involuntary shudders. I shake out my sheets every night before bed. I tap out my shoes before putting them on. But despite this ritualistic fear, I do not kill spiders in my home. I either Zen out and forget they crossed my path, or I catch the super-unlawful ones and put them outside.
Not this time. It turns out, the spider in my orchids was at the right place at the right time, and I’ve been protecting her and her space for a couple of months now. I watch her. She’s very busy, mending worn-out webbing, building additions and waiting with enviable patience.
So a couple of days before the lady was to come clean my house, I panicked. I had a large and obvious spider web right in the middle of my living-room plants. She would probably vacuum up the whole thing without giving it a second thought. I had to do something. I considered catching the spider and putting her outside, but I was unsure she would survive out there. She chose that spot for a reason, and I felt obligated to protect it. Then the answer came to me. It wasn’t going to be pretty, but it was the only practical solution.
An hour before the lady came, I said to the orchid spider, “I know you won’t understand, but trust me.” And with my child’s drumstick, I began tearing away the web she spent most of her adult life maintaining. I started from the outsides and slowly worked my way inside. I wanted her to run and hide, but not leave. And she did run, just like she was supposed to, exactly where it was safe — under a large, bent leaf that would provide her cover while the lady scrubbed the world around her.
When I was finished tearing apart her home, I watched her for a little while. She sat still under her leaf, assessing the damage. I felt incredibly sad for her. In my mind, she was devastated by the destruction and loss of everything she had worked so hard to build. I wondered if she thought I had failed her.
Although I spoke as softly as possible, I imagined that my voice boomed like thunder to this poor soul, when I said to her, “Don’t leave. You’re welcome here. I had to destroy your home to save your life.” I was desperate for her to recognize the undeniable truth: that was hell, but she was safe. Now rebuild.
Or, perhaps I was projecting.