I hate spiders. So I was none to thrilled when I returned to my car tonight and found several of them on the windshield. I’d parked with the car brushed against some low hanging branches. Albeit the spiders were small, but I hadn’t considered the possibility of their presence until I returned from my meeting and was startled by the flicker of their legs across my dashboard, inches from my open window. So as soon as the engine was running, I reached to turn on my windshield wiper, which would certainly squash them, or at the very least throw them off the side and below my reversing tire. Good riddance.
But then I stopped.
I recall a night when I was twenty-two, completely broke yet similarly carefree, passing the hours with some friends in a bar on the coast. Hanging on the wall was a coat rack constructed of driftwood upon which someone had painted a mural. Atop the scene was a quote from- I would later learn- the artist Brian Andreas: “Anyone can slay a dragon…but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That takes a real hero.”
That night I spent loose pocket change on cheap whiskey, sang loudly and off-pitch, and laughed like I didn’t have loan payments or a looming eight AM shift. But, for the most part, I sat quietly at the bar, stealing glances at the words written on a coat rack, like to-be lovers exchanging shy looks from across the room: “try waking up and loving the world all over again.”
This was easy when I was a child and the world ended with my backyard, the universe my neighborhood. Siblings were annoying but civil, neighbors were quirky, enemies could only be found in textbooks and death was what happened to grass when summer’s rain never came. Love was abstract and removed from any reality of pain.
But today I fear that my reservoir of love for the world is running dry. I cut someone off in traffic and they return my apologetic glance with a glare and the finger. My black friend tells of how she cannot sit on a park bench without a carload of white men yelling racist slurs as they pass by. I read reports of heinous genocides half a world away followed by commentators who call hell-fire down on anyone who disagrees with their proposed solution.
And I’ve no love left for the world. I’m not a real hero, just a coward trying to slay the dragon that is this conundrum of compassionate apathy playing itself out in my heart.
The other week I saw a homeless man sitting on a corner with a cardboard sign. He was just like every other anonymous homeless person we all see, and I was just like every other anonymous potential miracle, skirting around him and avoiding eye contact.
But for a moment I watched him. And as I watched everyone walking by, I wanted to scream. I wanted to run up to him, grab him by the hand and hold him up, hold us up, for all humanity to see. Because don’t we get it? If we’ve no love left for him then there’s none remaining for anybody. If there’s no hope for the least of these then there’s not the slightest for the rest. Of this I’m sure.
But I just walked by. Like everyone else.
Then tonight my hand stops before I turn on my wipers to send spiders to their death. And I’m back in the bar on the coast, twenty-two and old, sipping cheap whiskey, my friend is trying to woo some digits off the cute bartender over my shoulder. I look around me and I see it all, like a panorama of time before and after that moment. For a split-second, it’s worth it and I want to try to love the world again.
It was then and still is. It has to be.
So it starts here, it starts now. It starts small. It starts with something as trite as a man who is little more than a coward in the grand scheme of things deciding not to kill a helpless spider in the immediate scheme of things. It starts with trying.
I drive home slowly with spiders clinging to my windshield like hope to a world being ripped apart by cynicism and cruelty. But they made it, we made it; we’ll make it.
And when I walk into my apartment they were still on the windshield, prancing about, almost like they weren’t despicable, terrifying varmints, almost as if the world wasn’t such a dark place after all.
Where they’ll be in the morning, I don’t know. But I, for one, will wake up and I’ll try to love the world again.