“Suddenly summoned to witness something great and horrendous, we kept fighting not to reduce it to our own smallness.”
—John Updike, “Tuesday, and After,” The New Yorker, September 24, 2001
We sat on the back steps watching transfixed as hundreds of rust-red spiders, big as thumbs, dropped on strands of silk out of the pecan tree in the backyard. It was exquisite, a great exodus of faith and instinct, leaping from one life and floating down to the next.
But then, something was wrong. An interfering. What was happening? Spiders began to crumple and drop. There was something else. Wasps, dark and formidable, impaling them, following them to the ground...for what, we could not see.
The spiders numbered in the hundreds. The wasps were so fast, so efficient. The silk shimmered. The wind changed, but not enough to save anybody.
We wished it would stop. We knew it would not stop until the unknown purpose was served, appetites satiated, progeny provided for, territory protected.
The four-year-old wanted to know why the spiders were not fighting back. Sometimes, you get caught by surprise, I said, and overwhelmed. Then, there were no words. Over the back fence, we heard laughter, and saw the ponytailed tops of the neighbor kids’ heads as they bounced on their trampoline.
It was brutal, haunting, and holy, this moment shared by three species of hunters:
one living, one dying, and us, bearing witness.
Some people say that our democracy is all but dead, that the last gasps of the American Experiment will be drowned out by the static roar of white nationalism celebrating itself in cyrillic script on January 20.
Though we may have fallen, my people — my beautiful, colorful, many-faithed, differently abled, lovers-of-all, polyglot people — this is no darkling plain. We have found each other in our shining pain, even in the tall grass, and in numbers we huddle not to hide but to strategize, not to blame but to build.
Guide our hands, Great One, as we spin the stuff of hope, even now.