I sat on the living room floor, hugging the neck of our beloved Chocolate Lab while the vet waited patiently in the kitchen. Moments later, I was nuzzling her soft brown head as she took her last breath. Anyone who has lost a pet knows the heartbreak that comes next.
For me, what came next was a spider. I spied her the morning after saying goodbye to Coco. She caught my eye while I was reaching for the kitchen faucet. Delicate, tan, and no bigger than a dime, she darted up under the bar behind the sink. I could see her tiny web, and I decided to let her be.
This may have been one of the most uncharacteristic moves of my entire life. My fear of spiders is legendary. Practically irrational. But I wasn’t afraid. More than that, I was drawn to her. Happy to see her. And wondering, on some level, if that tiny eight-legged creature held the spirit of Coco. It wasn’t too hard to imagine, since one of my best friends visited me after she passed away in the form of a bee.
I looked for her first thing each morning. And there she was. She seemed to wait longer and longer each time before scrambling for cover under the bar. I found comfort in her presence. And then came the day when the housekeeper showed up. I was at work when I realized, and I panicked. When I got home, there was a shiny sink, and no sign of her web. I was heartbroken. And then, the next morning, there she was! New web, and a quiet greeting before hiding again for the day. I smiled. I decided to cancel the housekeeper for a while.
Two weeks passed, and I began to wonder how long spiders lived. Historically, spiders never survived long in my house. This was new territory. I turned to Google. House spiders, it turns out, are not harmful. In fact, they are helpful. I also learned that they rarely survive outdoors. I immediately felt bad for all the times I thought I was doing a good deed by sucking it up and ushering the little monsters outside. I was also surprised to find they live an average of one to two years! This information made me very happy.
For weeks, I continued to greet her before I made my coffee. She became my touchstone (don’t get me wrong, I never actually *touched* her) and I felt a sense of peace the moment I saw her.
And then one morning she was gone. Her web was there, so I hoped maybe she was hiding under the bar. I looked for her, and couldn’t find her. Maybe she had gone for a stroll? When she wasn’t there the next morning, or the next, I knew she was gone for good. I never found out what happened to her. But I mourned her loss. I knew the incredible sadness I was feeling was really a delayed reaction to the loss of Coco. Her comforting presence had delayed the pain.
That was six months ago. The world has changed since then. Pain and sadness and death and anger have become part of everyone’s daily life. No one is immune. But we breathe in and breathe out. The sun rises and sets. And we try to find little bits of normalcy where we can.
This morning I went to grab my suitcase. A suitcase that had traveled with me to 10 states, crossing between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, to the Gulf of Mexico, and South America. It had come with me to New York City at least 20 times. But since March 13th, it sat unused in the garage.
Covered in stickers from across the country and suffering a questionable zipper, it looked small and sad parked next to a bicycle with two flat tires. I was anxious about a trip I was going to take. Even as the country began to reopen, I had not ventured out. It all seemed to soon. Life was definitely not back to normal. But this time the trip was not for pleasure. It was to say goodbye. To close a chapter in a book. A beautiful book filled with love and laughter and hundreds of chapters I might spend a lifetime writing about. Bittersweet. A risk. But something I would regret not doing.
And all of those thoughts were swirling around my head, distracting me, as I grabbed the handle of the suitcase and began to pull it toward the door. I noticed a criss-crossing of spiderwebs between the bottom wheels, so I tilted it to one side and grabbed a paper towel and began to clean it off. As I removed the webs, a small spider jumped to the floor and began to run away.
My immediate reaction was fear and without thinking I swiftly took the paper towel and squashed it.
I caught my breath and apologized to the lifeless body as I dropped it into the trash can. And then I couldn’t breathe.
I left the suitcase on the floor and came inside and draped myself across the back of the couch and began to weep. I could hear myself making noises I almost didn’t recognize. I was suddenly very aware of what I had done. It wasn’t as simple as accidentally killing a spider when I was trying to be a more “live and let live” kind of gal. No. This was different.
This spider was running AWAY from me. It was afraid of me. It was harmless. And I was scared. Irrationally. And I instinctively killed it. And all the regret and tears wouldn’t bring it back to life. The metaphor didn’t escape me.
At the same moment I caught my breath, a pang of guilt found its way to the tiniest crack in the hard shell I had so carefully built up around my heart and split it wide open. All the events of the past few months came pouring in. I saw them all, like some flash-back montage from a futuristic movie. And I didn’t fight it.
The weight of the world is heavy, and just as fast as it poured in, it spilled back out. And I sobbed the whole time. I cried until my eyes stung and my face hurt and my lungs burned and my stomach ached. I cried until I was done.
I may never be able to reconcile all that is occurring right now. And I certainly can’t solve all the problems. But I can definitely be more mindful of what is happening in the world. I can try and find daily happiness and still remain present.
I can never bring that spider back, but I can give his life some meaning by paying attention.