In my house, I have a rule: spiders of all kinds – yes, even the dangerously venomous ones – are gently caught in a specific Mason jar and escorted outside. As long as they do not jump on me, soar down from the ceiling in front of my face, or get discovered inside my bed, that is. Those three conditions obliterate any Kindness to Spiders I have avowed and result in immediate obliteration.
Because my building is old and it is in an older neighborhood with lots of ivy, bushes, and gigantic trees, my place is a bug haven, yet no other bugs are treated with this appreciation. They are just… bugs that really bug me. Ironically, of all the creepy crawlies in this world, spiders bug me the least. They fascinate me, as long as I choose to not remember the gargantuan cat spiders I used to have to deal with in my basement bedroom as a teenager or the one that crawled over my face while I was sleeping, which tickled, so I batted at it and unconsciously realized that my hand had made contact with something furry and when I opened my eyes, the beast was sitting on my pillow, staring at me. Yes. As long as I do not recall that, spiders are my friends.
For about a year now, I’ve had this gorgeous, lacy spider with a tiny elongated body and legs that are impossibly delicate and long. She stayed up in the upper corner of my closet, which is actually an add-on built outside the original structure of the building, so it’s like an uninsulated shed built on top of the extension of the apartment beneath me, slanted floor and all. It is as if they built the closet on top of the slanted roof of the breakfast nook on the first floor, without paying any heed to the fact that it was, in fact, slanted. It is enough of a slant that things roll toward the other side of the closet and if I don’t tread lightly, I slide along the laminate floor at dangerous speeds when I enter the space.
The highest most corner, where Lady Spider had built her web, is impossible to reach. Therefore, I just left her alone. She had chosen a smart spot that has a hole in the upper corner – the space between the brick of the external-turned-internal wall of the building and the edge of the adjoining wall of the add-on closet. Some days, I would stand in the closet, arms outspread to keep my balance, and just watch her up there, perched in her web. I imagined she was concocting messages to weave into her web, much like Charlotte did for Wilber. There was never any glistening words for me, but I felt a kinship with this gorgeous creature and left her alone.
When spring came, she disappeared.
While cleaning my closet today, I found her, moving slowly – as spiders do when the weather turns cold – down much lower and in a place that was too close to my living space for comfort. I grabbed my Mason jar and she entered it without a fuss and with a surprising amount of ease, as if she trusted me. It was the most stress-free of the spider rescues I’ve ever done.
I lightly placed the lid on top of the jar and escorted her outside. As soon as I began to travel with the jar, she flipped over on her back, curled up her legs, and played dead. When I opened the lid and gently laid the jar down, she remained “dead.” I slightly tilted the jar bottom upward, she slid down the slope without uncurling, and landed unceremoniously upon the ledge, still “dead.”
It was a breezy day and she was wispy, so the slightest breeze tossed her about. She continued to play dead and I watched, hoping she would trust the ground enough to unfurl her stilts and scurry away. She did not.
With one particularly strong gust, she was blown over the edge of my porch and cast downward. I watched her, begging her mentally to stop playing dead and save herself. She disappeared from my view before she came back to life and so I will never know if she chose to save herself, if the fall itself killed her, or if the foliage far below me has become her new home.
I was really moved by being witness to her decision to play dead to her own demise. And I found myself wondering how many times I have chosen a protective mechanism that actually ended up doing more damage than good. I wondered about how humans have a tendency to seek security, stability, and protection in behaviors and relationships that are actually the opposite of what they are seeking. They choose to stay in these situations because it seems comfortable and safe, when, if they chose, instead, to make a choice to stop playing dead by choosing comfortable misery, they could actually save themselves.
When you are faced with uncertainty, do you remain in your protective stance, curled up around yourself and holding very still while hoping that the outcome will be successful, or do you choose to open up and breathe and look about you to see the options as they appear to give yourself an opportunity to empower yourself?
While playing dead has its powerful pros when used at appropriate times, doing so as a default out of fear when there are other, more powerful, life-affirming options, is just… well… deadly.
What will you choose?