Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Playing God

One of my favorite things about sunny, warm days is hanging clothes outside on the clothes line. Sure, my towels may be a little scratchy and my jeans may be a little stiff when I first put them on, but I like some crunch in my clothes and some backbone in my bedsheets.

So anyway, this morning--knowing it was going to be a bright and beautiful day--I strolled outside to the back yard and began hanging t-shirts and sheets on the clothes line. I got to the end of the line, the part near the boundary of our property where there is a thick line of bushes, and some movement caught my eye.

It was a white moth, and it was caught in a spider web. The moth was fluttering, flapping, trying desperately to free itself. I hung the sheet, smoothing its damp edges, and I began to turn away.

I have been reading Charlotte's Web to Jared, after all, and Charlotte has reminded us both that spiders are not bloodthirsty monsters but animals who need to eat just as much as pigs--or people--do.

Photo credit: John Shappell

Even though I had turned my back on the desperately struggling moth, I kept seeing its frantic struggle in my mind's eye. I hung another shirt and tried to close that inner eye. The moth had blundered into the spider's web. The spider needed to eat. I should let nature take its course. Who was I to try to free the moth? As I hung another shirt, I felt a glow of self-righteousness, thinking Charlotte would be proud of me. I was quite certain that if she were nearby, she would weave an adjective or two about me into her web.

I hung the last towel on the line and picked up the basket to go back inside. Then I hesitated. I had to look back one more time. The moth was still struggling, still fluttering, still hoping to live. I set the basket down and stepped closer, looking for the spider. I thought, maybe the spider is right there, watching its dinner lose its will to live and surrender to fate. But I couldn't see the spider at all, just the moth.

Then, without even really thinking about what I was doing, I stretched forth my godlike finger and tore at the net. I tore and tore around the moth, freeing it. Without one word of thanks, it fluttered away, and I stood up, staring at the devastation I had caused, brushing sticky shreds from my fingers.

And I thought, as I bent to pick up the empty laundry basket, of how easy that had been for me: how with a few strokes of my finger, I had saved a life and destroyed something beautiful. Would the spider snare another moth--or something less lovely, perhaps--later that day, or would it have to wait days before its next meal? Would it survive those hungry days, or had I doomed it to starvation--certainly, I had made a mess of its web, and it would have to repair it.

Photo credit: The Natural Stone (@blogspot.com)

As I stumbled through the rest of my day, I tried not to think too much about the divine power I had used, refusing to think about things like guilt or remorse or pride. These were a spider and a moth, and I had more important things to take care of, like feeding my children and paying bills, but now, as I sit in my quiet chair, my day's tasks nearly completed, I think again about the godlike action I took this morning, and I wonder whether I did the right thing.

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