Sunday, February 7, 2016

February 7: Super Bowl Sunday, Simpler Life, Teenage Anger, Classic Saint Marty

Another weekend draws to a close.  Super Bowl Sunday (although I do not plan to watch the game or eat chicken wings--I may watch the half-time show because of Coldplay and Beyonce).

It always amazes me how slow the week seems, Monday crawling toward Friday.  Yet, come Friday night, I barely take a breath and it's Sunday night.  I have been working all day.  Lesson planning, grading, and whatnot.  This morning, my daughter climbed onto a bus at 7:15 to go on a class trip to see the musical Newsies.  It was a rough send-off, accompanied by much teenage anger and indignation, and, despite numerous texts, my daughter has maintained radio silence.  I am the enemy today, I guess.

Life used to be much simpler.  Work, simpler.  Teaching, simpler.  I used to enjoy my weeks, even if they were a little long.  My daughter, while not a perfect child, was, for the most part, very good-natured.  Sweet and affectionate.  My son, also not perfect, got up smiling and went to bed with little fuss.  At work, I was surrounded by friends who cared about my life, knew my struggles.  And, at the university, the English Department was run with kindness and compassion.

Now, looking back, I realize how good things were for me.  I was really blessed for a very long time.  Things have changed.  I have friends at work, but not friends who seem like family.  My daughter, still not perfect, is less frequently good-natured.  My son, also still not perfect, drags himself out of bed in the morning and fights bedtime.  The English Department has become more . . . corporate.  Kindness and compassion are, at times, in short supply during my weekdays. 

Looking back two years, I am reminded of the importance of small things (tiny kindnesses) by this episode of Classic Saint Marty.

February 7, 2014:  Most Important Part, Small Things, Small Fairy Tale

"Good-bye!" she whispered.  Then she summoned all her strength and waved one of her front legs at him.

She never moved again.  Next day, as the Ferris wheel was being taken apart and the race horses were being loaded into vans and the entertainers were packing up their belongings and driving away in their trailers, Charlotte died.  The Fair Grounds were soon forlorn.  The infield was littered with bottles and trash.  Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all.  No one was with her when she died.

I remember reading these two paragraphs when I was about seven and being absolutely devastated.  I think it was one of my first experiences with death.  I mourned Charlotte for a couple of days.  I thought it was a huge injustice that she wasn't able to return to the barn with Wilbur, share his victory with the rest of the animals.  Plus, she dies by herself.  I still think it's one of the saddest passages ever put in a novel, even if it is about a spider.

Of course, being older, I know that spiders have very short life spans.  Charlotte couldn't return to the barn and live to see the hatching of her children.  It goes against nature.  E. B. White does something quite remarkable in this book.  He makes the reader love a spider, and then he lets her quietly die.  Of course, the spider saves her best friend first, sacrifices her last moments for him.  A small act of salvation.

I think it really is the small things we do in life that are really important.  Shoveling for an elderly neighbor after a snowstorm.  Bringing a sick friend a casserole.  Helping a child zip up his jacket.  Tiny acts of kindness that accumulate, like sand on a beach.  They aren't miracles on the scale of multiplying loaves and fishes or curing a person of leprosy. But they are miracles that restore faith in the human state.

People are pretty self-centered most of the time.  We don't think of the McDonald's worker who makes minimum wage and has three kids to support.  We ignore the man with chronic asthma and no health insurance.  We see newspaper stories about house fires and simply thank God it wasn't our house or our family.  We don't go out of our way to help out our neighbors, like Charlotte helps Wilbur.  I think that's one of the reasons the world is in the shape it's in.  Not enough spiders to write words in their webs.

Once upon a time, there lived an old man at the edge of a village.  He was the meanest old man in the entire kingdom.  He shot arrows at children who ventured into his yard.  He poisoned neighbors' dogs for crapping on his property.  He never bought any cookies from the local troop of Girl Scouts.  This old man's name was Gregorich.

One morning, Gregorich woke up and saw a spiderweb in the corner of his bedroom.  Woven into the web were two words:  "Be Kind."

Gregorich got out of bed, stunned.  He picked up a broom and swept away the web.  He sprayed insecticide all through his house.

Gregorich lived until the age of 103, and he never bought a Girl Scout cookie his entire life.  He died alone.  Unwept.  Unloved.

When the villagers came into his house to empty it out, they saw a spiderweb in the corner of his bedroom.  In the web were two words:  "Suck It."

Moral of the story:  spiders hold grudges.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

It's mean, but it's funny

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