The most important stories are often the hardest to weave.
How do you know where to begin?
An orb weaving spider begins in the center, doesn’t she? No. At a corner, and then allows a breeze to carry her from one anchor point to another, trailing silk behind her.
That’s it. One corner is connected to another by a breeze, and eventually there is a frame and then begins the careful circular weaving from out to in, steadily, patiently spiraling in toward the center.
One corner: I’m standing outside a ceremonial dance arbor. The year is 2016. I have lost track of time. It is the year Ken died.
A shaman is pulling cobwebs out of my heart.
“It’s gray and sticky, and there’s a lot of it,” she says.
She pulls and pulls.
I sob. I don’t know why. It just pours out of me.
A few moments of this, and then her blue blue eyes piercing mine: “Do you want to dance?”
“Yes,” I say.
The breeze and a trail of silk… my heart.
I have been in a very bad car accident. The year is 1994. Everyone I expected to care for me has not.
I am lying in my dorm room in a bloody shirt and my chest hurts. I don’t know it yet, but the injury in my chest will go with me for the rest of my life.
I have twisted my sternum.
My ribs don’t know where to be. They roam about my chest cavity, looking for a place to rest, rubbing the fascia and causing inflammation.
This injury will not be treated. It will not even be recognized until I am lying on a chiropractor’s table twenty years later, hearing her say the words: “Wow. What happened to your sternum?”
There is a hummingbird outside my window. It keeps returning there. Its feet are impossibly tiny. Its beak is impossibly long. Its back is impossibly iridescent.
The year is 2020. We are all locked up in our homes due to the pandemic raging through the world.
The hummingbird is unaware of the pandemic and unaware of me.
The hummingbird is intent upon something in the corners of my windows. Its reflection? Pick, pick, pick.
It picks at it with its impossibly long, skinny beak.
I am sitting in Quaker meeting for worship. It is a place that feels like home to me after many years of searching. We worship in silence, listening for the voice of God, rather than petitioning or preaching or talk talk talking. We are equals before God, here.
One to one channel.
The year is 2006. I am sitting in Quaker meeting and I am thinking, “Why am I always so afraid?”
Abby and I live in a tiny old house in a tiny old town in the the middle of the endless plains of the American Midwest.
It is night. The year is 1997.
I am going up a tiny, narrow staircase to bed. For some reason, I am home alone. Perhaps Abby is traveling for work.
I am frightened.
Behind me, I feel their presence. They’ve been following me for as long as I can remember. Since I was a child.
They are black and stealthy and silent. They are jackals, emblems of death. They are shapeshifters. They are sneaky. They stalk me.
When I go up the stairs, I am afraid to look behind me because I know they are there.
In the shower, I am afraid to open my eyes because what if they are there.
I am afraid to look and afraid not to look.
I am always afraid.
How does a spider return to the first corner to begin weaving the circumference of the web?
I will have to pay closer attention the next time I am lying on my back watching a spider against the sky.
I will get back to that corner by brute force, because I am human and I can do that.
Compared to silk and wind, words are a navigable vehicle, if rather clumsy.
My friend Ken comes. My grandparents come. My aunt comes. They are all dead. They come to watch me dance.
Ken says he has come because he missed my wedding. He missed that rite of passage and he will be here for this one.
My heart hurts. I thought it would stop hurting when I stepped into the arbor. Isn’t the arbor for healing? Didn’t a shaman pull cobwebs out of it?
My heart hurts anyway.
I have carried myself into the arbor and my heart hurts.
Now the spider weaves the circumference, running up the thread of one spoke to bring it to the next, pressing each joint in place as she goes.
The injury in my chest is about support. Lack thereof. It is in my heart chakra. I don’t know any of this while I’m lying in that bed in my dorm room in 1994, wondering why my boyfriend has left me with the accusation that I must be enjoying the attention my accident has gotten for me. Why my parents greeted me by asking me how fast I was driving. Why the nurses were cruel and the medics cold and why I feel so utterly wretched.
I just know I feel utterly wretched.
2020. The hummingbird. Pick pick pick. What is it doing? Not its reflection. It is picking at the old, abandoned cobwebs in the corners of the window.
A thought strikes me.
I jump onto Facebook.
DO HUMMINGBIRDS USE SPIDER SILK IN THEIR NESTS?
I’m so eager for an answer, I don’t wait.
I jump onto Google.
I am disproportionately overjoyed by this news.
The hummingbird keeps coming back. Day after day, hour after hour.
I read that hummingbirds use spider silk to construct their tiny, tiny nests because the material is both tough and stretchy.
They need it to be tough to hold the nest together.
They need it to be stretchy to accommodate their young as they grow.
The nest grows bigger because the spider silk stretches.
Sometimes, an entire hour of Quaker meeting is conducted in complete silence. Sometimes, one or more people feel a prompting from Spirit to stand and speak.
Occasionally, the room receives a collective download, and the spoken messages start to weave into each other, building energy and intensifying each other. The room feels electric. People shake with the energy. It’s why people who don’t understand originally labeled us “Quakers.” Quakers call themselves “Friends.”
And when the room does this thing, when that collective download starts and the messages weave into one another and start to form a complete picture, catching everyone in the silk, it’s called a “gathered meeting.”
This happens today. Silently, in my heart, I have asked the question of God: Why am I so afraid?
I don’t understand in that moment why a certain memory pops into my head.
The memory of lying on my back on a board, medics gathered around me. They are talking over me, strapping me in place. I am asking them if I’m okay. I’m asking them if they will call my parents.
They are ignoring me. My hands go numb. I don’t know why.
I tell them. They ignore me. I try to roll over, desperate to get their attention. I am certain I am dying.
One of them stops what they’re doing and looks at me, at last. Annoyed.
“Be still,” they say. “We have to get you strapped in in case your neck is broken. It could snap at any moment.”
I may be remembering the chronology wrong. Perhaps it is a nurse at the hospital who tells me that.
At the hospital where I am told to stand for an x-ray, even though my neck might snap at any moment.
Where I lie on the cold bathroom floor after I have vomited from fear, and wait for someone to come for me. Nobody comes for me.
Where I crawl out into the cold x-ray room and climb onto the cold gurney and wait.
Where I am eventually discharged without explanation. When I ask the nurse, “Does that mean my neck is not broken?” she says she can’t discuss that with me. Only the doctor can.
I tell her I haven’t spoken with a doctor. She walks away to get a doctor.
Another nurse approaches and demands that I sign discharge paperwork.
“But I don’t even know if my neck is broken,” I say.
Her glare is withering.
“Would we be discharging you if your neck were broken?”
No wonder I am so afraid.
It is like an electric charge.
The jackals are behind me. I feel them.
I am tired of being afraid.
It is night and I am afraid.
I crawl into my bed and I put my head under the covers and I feel them watching me.
“Fine,” I say. “What do you want?”
I take my head out from under the covers and I glare at them.
They are surprised.
“We’re here to help you,” they say.
I dance that dance. And then I dance many others.
I walk away from so much that never served me.
I walk into so much that does.
By this time, the spider has carried her thread from spoke to spoke of the web, around and around, steadily, patiently, gluing it in place at each point, spiraling patiently in toward the center.
Her web is tidy and neat.
Mine is not.
Words are not so graceful as spider silk, nor I as gifted as Spider. But I continue, nonetheless.
Hummingbirds are known for eating sweetness, for sucking sweetness from the flower. For lightness and ease and joy. I did not know that they also love old, abandoned cobwebs.
There is a hummingbird at my window. Its feet are black and three-toed and impossibly tiny, clutched tightly against its soft underside. Its beak is long and black. It opens and closes as it pick, pick, picks the cobwebs out of my window.
I am glad I never clean my windows.
The hummingbird returns, day after day, hour after hour. Its tiny black eyes discern the best material from the spider’s long-abandoned nest.
It chooses carefully, and carries the material back to its own secret spot, weaves the old, gray cobwebs into something new.
Sitting in the Meeting Room, a seasoned Friend stands to share, tells a story about a time she found a beautiful shell in an unexpected place and, without understanding why she did it, took it with her to lunch with a friend. Set it on the table. A little later, someone walked by and, eyes alight upon the shell, said, “You found it!”
This stranger had lost her shell, and the Friend found it. It is a tale of unexpected help from unexpected places.
I begin to shake.
For a second answer has come to me. I know why I’m afraid. But I know something else, too.
Unexpected help from unexpected places.
I remember how a blind man (whom I had been driving to the airport when the accident occurred) led me away from my upturned car by my hand. I remember how my boss and his assistant came to the hospital to hold my hand. I remember how my boyfriend’s brother’s German girlfriend, who spoke no English and whom I’d only met the day before, stayed in my dorm room with me after my boyfriend left and just, sat there with me. I remember how my friend who was not my boyfriend but would one day be my spouse brought me chicken noodle soup and orange juice.
I remember that help doesn’t always come from where it’s expected, but it always comes.
I share my message with the gathered Meeting and I shake with the Truth of it.
Some days, my heart still hurts. There is an old injury there and it doesn’t go away just because a shaman pulled cobwebs out of it and I danced a sacred dance and learned a sacred lesson. The sternum is still twisted. The ribs still rub the wrong way against the fascia.
There are plenty of cobwebs in there still. Maybe there always will be.
But maybe that’s not so bad.
Cobwebs, even old, abandoned, gray, sticky ones, can be put to good use.
Old material to make something new.
Something strong and stretchy, something resilient, strong enough to hold a new creation, but flexible enough to allow it to grow.
Something beautiful, and delicate, maybe. Something fierce with impossibly tiny feet and impossibly light heart.
Right there in the center, in the very heart, that is where the good stuff is. And if it doesn’t look like good stuff, maybe we just haven’t found the beauty in it yet.
If it looks scary, maybe that’s only because we haven’t turned to look at it.
Maybe we’re still looking for our help in the wrong places.
Maybe the jackals are the help.
Maybe the cobwebs are the material of our rebirth.
Maybe we just need a hummingbird to remind us.
Maybe we are the hummingbird.