It’s an early summer night and we’re doing early summer sorts of things, like boating and tubing on a river winding its way toward the Mississippi.
Then, as the sun dips low and the light gets long, we set our course for one of our favorite dinner spots. We prepare to feast. However, we are not the only ones feasting. A billion bugs just hatched. Suddenly, the air is thick with them, they are everywhere, plastered on the windshield of the boat, stuck on our sunglasses, caught in our hair and in our clothes.
As we disembark we notice, at the end of the dock, a spiderweb. It is coated in this harvest of insects. Heavy with them. Sagging under the weight of them. Quinn, who is ten, takes a look at it, and speaks truth: “Well, that spider had a good day.” I’m left digesting his words long after I’m done digesting the food.
Because in that spider I see much of humanity, including myself.
What I mean is, most of us have come to believe that the task of being alive is building just the right web in just the right spot at just the right time, and that bounty and abundance is the validation of the choices we’ve made. Our webs are our relationships and our accomplishments, our families and our kids and our jobs and our careers. We think we are here to build extraordinary webs out of our people and our purpose. And we believe if we do so, our webs should be laden with love, heavy with cash, sagging with satisfaction.
Here’s the thing, though, about that heavy web at the end of that buggy dock on that particular summer evening: it was just dumb luck.
As we eat our dinner, well away from the river and the clouds of bugs that happened to hatch on this night and will be mostly gone a week from now, I look around for other webs. And I see them. They are built dutifully and sturdily close to streetlights where the harvest is supposed to be found, where webs are supposed to be built. It turns out, a bunch of spiders did the right thing, and their webs were sparse, and one spider did the random thing and his web was full.
It turns out, for the most part, bounty is not proof we have lived our lives well; it is proof we have lived our lives lucky.
I know that doesn’t sit well with most of us. It certainly doesn’t sit well with me. I like to tell myself that the love I have and the life I live is the result of hard work, good choices, clean living, and strong faith. Meanwhile, I look at others with apparently more love and more life than I have—more bugs in their webs—and I think maybe I should work harder, maybe I haven’t made such good choices, maybe I’m being punished for all my little sins and my tiny faith. It’s all baloney, of course. But the truth is actually much harder to swallow. And the truth is this:
So far, somehow, for some reason that has nothing to do with me, I haven’t gotten as lucky as some people, but I’ve been much luckier than some others…
My parents got off drugs and got into school; someone else’s parents didn’t. I found more friends than bullies; someone else found the opposite. The night we were eighteen and messing around and ran the stop sign, we were narrowly missed by the car barreling toward us from our left; someone else wasn’t. Love found me, she dated me, she agreed to marry me; someone else wasn’t found by her. My kid didn’t have cranial stenosis; someone else’s did. When the texting driver t-boned my whole family, no one was injured; someone else’s family was. My kid’s friends haven’t offered him drugs yet; someone’s else’s has. I was born with the ability to write and I happened to start a blog at just the right time; some weren’t, and some didn’t. So far, I have been mostly healthy; so far, someone else hasn’t.
And just as easily, today, tomorrow, the next, I could become the someone else.
Two days after the night of the bugs, I return to the dock, hoping to get a picture of the bountiful web. I walk to the end of the dock. The web is almost gone now, torn to shreds by the weight of the bugs, dry and dead, empty of life. We all want bountiful webs—bountiful lives. However, if your web happens to be full of bounty, it is best to be humble about it. It was mostly luck, and that luck can turn.
Bounty can become burden in the blink of an eye.
On the other hand, if your web is not terribly bountiful—if you have been working hard and toiling justly and doing all the right things in all the right ways and your reward seems to be landing in someone else’s web somewhere else—rest easy. You probably aren’t doing anything wrong. Good fortune may find you, or it may not. But it doesn’t really matter, because sagging webs aren’t the point of life anyway.
We’re here, simply, to weave. To build our ordinary webs—our ordinary lives—as diligently and persistently and faithfully and beautifully as we can muster. And then,
we are here to surrender to chance,
to the fickleness of fortune,
and to let the peacefulness of that kind of surrender
become its own bounty.
Connect with Kelly
Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable, and his next book, True Companions, will be published in 2021.