11: Along Came a Spider

11: Along Came a Spider

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Along Came a Spider

It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.

~Anthony Robbins

“You’re very brave,” my colleague said, wiping her hands on a paper towel. Standing there in the ladies’ washroom with her, I was feeling many things, but none that resembled courage. The woman complimenting me had, only the week before, edged me out of a promotion I needed.

“There’s nothing brave about it,” I said, perhaps more dismissive than I should have been. “The posting will only last six months.”

“But you’re leaving everything,” she said. “Do you know anyone there?”

I’ve often thought of that small exchange. I believe in defining moments even when they stomp on my soul. Knowing they exist is much different from accepting where they take you.

And I wasn’t in an accepting mood. She was right; I was leaving everything about my pathetic life behind. I was also faulting her for some of that, because she got the job I had studied for. We were tied in points, as far as the qualifying exam went. On our performance appraisals, however, I had a comment about not respecting authority. She did not.

I was rebelling against more than authority. My marriage was coming apart like a broken zipper. While constant re-zipping temporarily brought us together again, the fault was permanent. I got a divorce, we sold our home, and now I had a potential job 2,000 miles away. I actually believed it was no big deal. It was, after all, a temporary position, a minor reprieve from the rest of my life.

During the three months between accepting the temporary posting and the moment it would officially begin, I lived in a small apartment. My ex-husband and I worked through the tedious process of untangling what was his and what was mine. I repacked my life into boxes, stored some, gave some away, and put aside four that I would take with me.

Ironically, it was a small spider that gave everything clarity. As a child, daddy longlegs terrified me. As an adult, it’s the quick little black ones that make my heart race. And it was a little black one that was mocking me as I zipped my suitcase closed.

He scurried across the wall. No longer able to call out “spider patrol” and have my husband come and remove it, I did what any responsible woman would do. I sat down and sobbed.

My life had been reduced to four boxes, two suitcases and no one to kill a spider for me. It was the most desperate moment of my life. The spider watched it all unfold from his place where the wall met the ceiling.

“You’re very brave.”

Wiping my tears with the back of my hand, I stood up. “I’m not,” I said to the spider. “But I can be. And if I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life, it’s up to me to find a way to be happy about it.”

I reached into one of the boxes and took out a glass. I climbed the stepstool, and with a flick of the real estate flyer advertising my former house, I caught the spider. With a rapid fluttering in my heart, I opened the patio door and set the glass outside. He could find his own new life somewhere else. It’s what I was going to do.

A defining moment — I was capable of facing the things that scared me.

Six weeks and several emotional breakdowns later, I understood why my colleague had said what she did. I enjoy people, but I don’t make friends easily. I knew no one. I was surrounded by conversations in French that I did not understand, and a few in English that I avoided. I got lost nearly every day as I walked my new neighborhood and sorted through bus schedules. The job was frustrating because although the tasks were similar to my previous post, they were being approached in the most convoluted manner. The note about challenging authority still rankled. But that too was a defining moment — everyone, I realized, was afraid of change. Everyone was also capable of managing it.

On my fortieth birthday, I dined at a sushi restaurant alone. New options had opened for me, and they demanded thought. Would I move for a permanent job? Could I find happiness or security or belonging, or even worth, as a single middle-aged woman?

Defining moments. Reflecting on the previous eight months, I realized that yes, I would move. Financially speaking, I’d be better able to support myself. There were many reasons why my marriage fell apart — and I keenly felt my share of the blame for that — but the self-loathing that had become constant within that union was dissipating. If that could happen, then could happiness be far behind?

Ah, happiness. I realized no one else could be responsible for that, though others could augment it. It was up to me to make the most of the life I’d been given. It began with celebrating the fact I existed, and had for forty years.

I wanted more than a life sentence though. It wasn’t enough to exist, so I began to make decisions that, while considering the needs of others, would best benefit me.

Why was that so difficult? I wondered. It was such a simple thing to consider my own needs, but it wasn’t something I’d figured out before. So I chose me, and lived with my choices and learned how to be grateful for what I had. That gratitude opened room for joy.

Now, a dozen years later, I can see how each of those choices has given me the life I always wanted but never felt I deserved.

Defining moments. They’ve made all the difference.

Except for spiders. I haven’t worked out what to do about those yet.

~Crystal Thieringer

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