58: Spiderman

58: Spiderman

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel


Angels are not merely forms of extraterrestrial intelligence. They are forms of extra-cosmic intelligence.

~Mortimer J. Adler

It was official: none of the warm birthday wishes I’d received from friends and family had stuck. I was twenty hours into what was quite possibly the worst birthday I’d ever had.

My closest friends were 3,000 miles away, and my local ones had erratic schedules and weren’t great about making plans. As a result, there would be no celebration. A few of them forgot the day altogether, which hurt more than I wanted to admit.

My workday had been fraught with stress and disappointment. The tomatoes in my deli sandwich at lunch had been spoiled. I’d had to brave the crowded rush hour supermarket for some groceries. The local mass transit had been fouled up for both the morning and evening commutes. In fact, that morning I had to spend money on a cab to get to work because my bus never showed up. After work, it had taken me three hours to go seven miles because the scheduled buses had never appeared. To boot, as I’d waited at one bus stop, someone had shouted horrible things at me from a passing car. For the grand finale, during the last leg of my journey, I had to deal with the passive-aggressive bus driver who never stopped at the curb. Instead, she always glared at the people waiting, zoomed past us, and stopped all the way down the block, so we all had to run to board the bus. It happened every single night, so it wasn’t a mistake.

The message was loud and clear: a happy birthday wasn’t happening this year. I wasn’t even going to get a moderately pleasant birthday. I’d given up on it. It was late, I was exhausted, and all I wanted to do was go home, have some ice cream, and go to sleep.

After I got off the bus, I put my things down on a bench for a moment to grab my house keys and readjust my bags of groceries. As I tended to my belongings, a middle-aged man walking up the block stopped dead in his tracks and stared at me.

Oh great, I thought. The day’s been awful enough, but I suppose street harassment will be the cherry on top, won’t it? I didn’t live in the sort of place where people approached you on the street with a friendly greeting; they usually had more sinister motives. As a result, I always refrained from talking to strangers and I was suspicious of them by default. I tried not to look at the man and busied myself with my groceries. He didn’t move.

“Be careful,” he said. Even though I had headphones on, I could hear him loud and clear. “There’s a spider. Black widow.”

Unlike a lot of people, I’m not afraid of spiders at all. In fact, I won’t let anyone squish a spider in my presence. I’ll always scoop it up and carry it outside. But the words “black widow” were enough to make me jump, and something in the man’s tone of voice told me that he wasn’t joking. “What? Where?” I asked, and recoiled.

“Right there. Look!” He came closer and pointed under the bench, where, sure enough, a bulbous, threatening arachnid sat in the middle of its web. There was no mistaking it. This particular black widow also happened to be right under my groceries on the bench, and, more ominously, very close to my leg. I knew that widows never hurt humans unless they felt threatened, but I also realized that I was on the brink of inadvertently provoking this one. If I moved even a little closer, I would disturb the web, and that would warrant a bite. “Be careful,” the man said, and walked away.

I kept one eye on the spider, backed away and gave my backpack and grocery bags a few shakes to ensure that I hadn’t inadvertently picked up an unwanted companion. As I crossed the street, I realized how odd the situation had been. The man had been walking in the opposite direction and it was dark; there was no way he could have spotted the spider or its web from that vantage point. And yet, he’d known it was there, and he’d known it was dangerous. How? Maybe it didn’t matter how; it just mattered that he had.

I felt better as I continued my walk home. My angels never forgot me, bad birthday or not. Saving me from a black widow bite had been their present to me.

~Denise Reich

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