I have a friend who likes spiders.  She admires their usefulness, happy that they eat so many bugs and garden pests.

She is supremely tolerant of her eight legged friends, even living in peaceful harmony with a black widow spider who lives behind her house.   As my friend told this story, I shuddered in disgust and horror.  I am the proud owner of a serious case of arachnophobia, and I could barely imagine lying down to sleep at night, knowing that just outside my window there lurked a venomous and deadly guest, busily working to ensnare her prey.   I said as much to my friend, but she shook her head at my foolishness.

“But they eat bad bugs.”she said, trying to talk me out of my fear.  “And they build such amazing webs.”  She went on to describe the densely woven tapestries, stretching from wall to wall behind her house, providing a place for the little spider to hide, as well as a source for her sustenance.

She didn’t convince me of the benefits of spiders, of course; I could no more live in the company of  a black widow than I could bring an alligator into the living room as my pet.   But she did get me thinking.

She got me thinking about the threads that form our own life webs.

The black widow conversation took place at a gathering of old friends, people I’ve known for more than 4o years.  As one of our group put it, “These are people who knew me before I had any idea who me would turn out to be.”  Some of us met when we were twelve years old; some even younger.  I’ve known one of them since we were in the second grade!

And here we were, gathering to eat and laugh and catch up with each other at the age of 57!

There are threads that bind me to these people, as surely as the spider’s web connects one wall of my friend’s house to the wall on the other side.  Those ties, those filaments of friendship, bind my life to the lives of my old classmates, and they branch out to the spouses, partners, children and parents of those friends, too. I pictured those little strands of silk being reinforced and strengthened with each visit and each shared memory, like the web of the spider being strengthened as she passes back and forth across it.

Each of us has a web like this, made up of the connections to all of the people in our lives. I know that the strongest, most durable threads in my life are made of the links to my husband and children, and to my parents and siblings.  But each of those links branches off, too, to their friends, loves, partners, parents.

There are threads that bind me to the people at work, and to the people in their lives.  And there are more and more threads, going out and out, building the web that is my life. Threads that spread out to my students and their families, and to the people in my town, and to my doctor and my hairdresser and to the mechanic I’ve known for 23 years now!

And just like the beautiful, intricate web that shelters and nourishes the black widow, the web of my own life provides me with support, shelter and nourishment for my heart and my soul.  And I know that each time I connect with another human being, I am adding a thread to the web of that person’s life, and that each web is joined to millions of others.

I’m still afraid of spiders, but I have become a huge fan of those artful, delicate, ever changing webs, and of all that they provide.

A toast to everyone in my web: thank-you!!!

Fighting frustration.

I had a very interesting conversation yesterday, but I don’t remember it all that clearly.   My heart was pounding the whole time, and my mouth was kind of dry.

I was talking to a guy who really impresses me with his wit, his knowledge and his big heart.  The whole time we were chatting, my brain was thinking “Oh, my God. I’m TALKING to him.”

No, this wasn’t a flashback to seventh grade. Nor was it a moment of straying from my very stable marriage.  I was on a call-in radio show.  With my very favorite political talk show host.

I had made the call because I was overwhelmed by a sense of frustration as I listened to the host, Pete Dominick, and his guest, whose name I honestly forget.  Pete is a liberal thinking progressive (you know, like me), but his show is so wonderful because he invites people with a wide variety of views to come on and talk.  This guy was a very conservative thinker, and spoke about the views of the far right.  I love this show because Pete asks good questions, lets his guests speak, and doesn’t argue or challenge.  But I heard this man using terms like “This is a non-negotiable point for us.”  and “We are absolutely going to insist on the major changes to collective bargaining laws.”  The more he spoke, the more my heart dropped.

And so I called the show.  I wanted to commend Pete for his patience, thank him for giving me a chance to listen to the “other side”, but also to share my sense of outrage at the entrenched, dug-in, uncompromising stance of the right wing.  To be honest, I sort of thought that my hero would agree with me!

I wasn’t sure I’d even get on (ok; I have called five or six times, been on the air once before).  But after only a few minutes of waiting through a commercial, I heard Pete say, “Karen in Massachusetts”, and there I was!  Speaking to Pete himself!!  Yikes!  Oh, my God!  What do I say?!

I started to talk, and listened to my galloping heart. I told Pete how frustrated and upset I was by his guest, and by my belief that the government is in a state of total lockdown due to the absolute refusal to bend or compromise.  I took a breath, waiting for him to agree.

He didn’t.  Which is why I like the show so much.  “Listen,” he said. “Don’t you think that those on the left have similar issues that they just can’t compromise about?  Don’t you have something like that yourself, that means so much to you that you could never give an inch?”

“But, Pete!”, I insisted, “How are we ever going to make any progress, or make this country any stronger if people are so unwilling to give an inch?”   Pete answered me by  talking about his faith in human nature, and his faith in the American spirit. “We’ll move on the same way we always move on. American politics has always been full of passion.”

I assured him then that I DO have faith in human nature.  I told him that I teach elementary school, which I believe to be the ultimate optimistic endeavor.  But I believe that the US political system is broken beyond repair.  His reply was that we have to embrace all views, listen to all voices, and try to find a way to come to decisions that are best for all of us.  I told him that he reminded me of my children, as they talk about the Occupy movement.

Honestly, I am not sure that I share the faith of this younger man, but I let myself be calmed anyway. After all, it was my favorite radio guy on the other end of the phone.  As we ended our conversation, Pete said, “Thank you for being a teacher.  I always thank those who do your job.” My little crush got that much stronger.

As I thought later about my tiny moment of on-air fame, I came to realize a few things.  I realized that Pete is right when he says that knowledge is power.  It does no good to anyone to listen only to those who share our views.

And I realized that even though I constantly tell myself that I am open minded and moderate, I see things through the lens of my liberal views. I bristle at opinions that strike me as wrong.  More importantly, as I have come to the conclusion that we have to talk to each other in order to make any progress, I must admit that we have to listen to each other, too.

So thanks, Pete Dominick, for my tiny moment of XM radio fame, and for giving me the thrill of the year.  And thank-you for giving me a gentle shake to make me rethink my positions and opinions.

Now, can you please call some of my dug-in, entrenched right wing friends and relations, and give them your wisdom, too?