A NOISELESS patient spider,I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.Walt Whitman, from “A Noiseless Patient Spider”
These past couple of days I’ve been thinking and writing about how important it is to pay attention, to do what we can to support and lift up others.
Or, at the very least, to do our best not to trod them beneath our feet!
Of course, like so many things, this is far easier said than done. Even our best intentions can lead to outcomes we didn’t expect, and we touch the earth and those around us in so many ways that no amount of attention can render our passing completely harmless.
I was reminded of this as I was walking the Heron Rookery Trail in the Indiana Dunes National Park. (Yes, I’m still getting a big kick out of using its new name!) If you’ve never been, this is a beautiful three-mile out-and-back hike that follows the Little Calumet River through countless trees and wildflowers.
Well, I must have been the first one on the trail this morning, because I hadn’t walked more than thirty feet when I passed through my first spider web. It ended up being the first of many, as the flowers and tall undergrowth started crowding the path.
I didn’t give it all that much thought; I just periodically brushed the stickier strands off my arms and face. Then a certain glint of sunlight reminded me that those webs don’t come from nowhere…
The spider was about the size of a quarter, and it was just doing its thing, but I’m still glad I didn’t give it a ride on my hat.
After this encounter, of course I saw weavers everywhere, and all of the exquisite handiwork I had been blundering through all morning.
So there I was, doing my best to pay attention to where I was and what I was doing, and still I was destroying the patient, careful work of hours.
Sometimes we hurt others in spite of our best intentions. Maybe sometimes, like when the web happens to straddle the trail, it’s unavoidable. But our inevitable mistakes and failures (oh, being a father…) don’t make it less important to try, to do our best to avoid hurting others when we can.
It sure beats the alternative–focusing on ourselves so much that we mindlessly and cruelly cause harm:
So I’ll keep trying to pay attention as I go along my way, hiking the dunes, raising my sons, trying to be a good husband and father. And I’m sure I’ll still make mistakes, still blunder into spider-webs.
But I might also get the chance to take joy in the little things that would otherwise slip by unnoticed, like this:
And they are so worth the effort.