Lessons from the Spider

Many years ago, I would water the lawn and hedges every morning in our front yard. My young daughter would watch from the living room window inside the house. I would spray the window with the hose, which she found incredibly funny. Those were slower times in San Jose, when the Del Monte cannery still operated down at the train station and the pungent smell of onions and beans cut through the air.

The cannery is long gone, but I now live on the same street just four houses away. Things have a tendency to come full circle in life. One thing I observed watering the hedges back then was a spider web that appeared every morning in the same spot between the hedges and the front of the house. I would wipe it away as I watered, and every night the spider would weave it back again. This got to be a ritual. I would get up, water the hedges, and brush the web away only to find another in its place in the morning.

If you were to ask me why I didn’t just leave the spider alone and let him weave his web, I’m not sure I could answer you. I would do that now. I wouldn’t do all that watering, either. It’s not that there’s a drought in the Bay Area (there isn’t). Rather, I am much more inclined at this stage in life to leave things alone. That includes hedges, houses, and people. I’m not sure I would let the house fall apart around me à la Aureliano Buendía in One Hundred Years of Solitude, but close. I’ve fantasized about that, actually. Let the house and me sink back into the earth.

What impressed me about the spider is that it wasn’t intentional in its actions. That is, I didn’t imagine it taking the destruction of its web personally, requiring a strategy not just to weave a new web each night but to exact revenge on the human interloper who made its life miserable. That’s just it. The spider’s life wasn’t miserable. It just did what it had to do out of instinct. It did not will its behavior. Instead, its behavior was automatic, at least as far as I could tell. I have seen similar behavior in other animals, although I wouldn’t presume to judge their level of self awareness. The more we study animals, it seems, the more we learn about their ability to be “present.” About spiders, who knows? I have read studies about human male and female mate selection paralleling that of spiders, jokes about black widows and tangled webs aside.

For human beings, we often need a reason to rebuild. We need motivation and purpose, especially when our web gets destroyed, crushing our spirit. You hear this in the oft-heard adage, “They knock you down six times, you get up seven.” Ironically, a certain someone told me that once and then knocked me down. I’d like to say I didn’t see it coming, but I did. I suppose it’s the curse of consciousness, of self-awareness, that demands we motivate ourselves, that we suffer pain and tribulation to rebuild anything: hedges, houses, relationships.

Rebuilding the web is not instinctual for us, and so we spend time, money, and emotion trying to get up the seventh time. Not only is it not easy, but think of the humiliation of getting knocked down and having to overcome the jeers of naysayers as you get back on your feet again. I’ve never believed that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Some things can maim you for life.

How convenient would it be not to rebuild what has been destroyed? Suddenly, convenience and security have elbowed their way to the front of the line of societal values. People want both and are willing to give up certain freedoms in exchange for not having their web messed with. Or, better said, the real cultural gap is not between the digitally literate and illiterate but between those who pick themselves up off the mat and those who want others to weave the web for them regardless of the cost.

As it turns out, web weaving is not for the meek and mild. The advantage of the spider is that it doesn’t know any better. We do and yet we still have to learn the lesson.

Image credits: feature by Sabeel Ahammed from StockSnap; woman by Zohre Nemati on Unsplash; knock down by Nick Wang on Unsplash. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.” RIP Hank Williams (Sept. 17, 1923-Jan. 1, 1953).


  1. An exquisite take on modern society. Our inability to pick ourselves up off the canvas after a few setbacks is legion in modern day America. There is a default setting to “Oh, I give up. I’ll let someone else deal with it.”

    Depressing, given the existing older generation (Boomers) should have been schooled in fortitude by the Greatest Generation, which survived the Depression, The Dust Bowl, World War II, and the Soviet Union. Why did we not hammer the Millennials with the need to shake off adversity and forge ahead?

    That sticktoitiveness is missing.

    Where did it go?

    1. Agreed. However, what I did not include in the post is W.C. Fields’ line about “sticktoitiveness.” He said something like, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, and then quit. There’s no sense being a damned fool about it…”

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