I was on the phone with my “teacher”. The conversation had moved to an important crossroads, I was learning to open my heart more fully. At that moment, he said softly, “Look at that, a spider just appeared by the window.” I was confused. What did this spider have to do with our work together? He continued, “Some Native Americans interpret spiders as having ‘grandmother energy’. Grandmothers are so often touchstones of unconditional love.” I immediately thought of my own grandmother and like the petals of a delicate flower, my heart opened and I felt the unconditional love she had for me. It was an important moment in my life.
A few days later I spoke with my wife, Liz, a middle school math teacher, about what had happened. It might not have made complete sense to her; but she listened intently. A month or so later, we were eating dinner and Liz told the following story.
“We were in math class today and one of the girls saw a spider on the classroom floor and screamed. The kids nearest her jumped out of their seats to see it. In just a few seconds the entire class was up, probably happy to have a little incident to add some excitement to the day. They were definitely over-reacting.
Several of the boys approached the spider and there were shouts from the group to step on it. “Kill it!” the kids were all screaming. One of the boys was happy to oblige; but before he could stamp on it, I said loud enough for them to hear, “You know my husband says that spiders hold grandmother energy.” They stopped and looked at me. “What’s that?” one of the girls asked. I continued, “Some Native Americans believe that spiders carry the energy of their grandmothers.” The class had a look of general confusion, “Really?”
I stepped over to where the spider had stopped. One of the boys shouted, “Don’t kill it!” Another shouted from the back, “Pick it up and put it outside!” At that an entourage of students carefully worked the spider onto a piece of paper and the entire class escorted it to the window where they gently released it to the softness of early spring.
We all stood watching to see what it would do and in seconds it disappeared from our view. No one wanted to return to their seats. An odd mood had overtaken the class. We had moved from frenetic middle school excitement to quiet pride. Like we had done something important and meaningful.
Did they believe it was “grandmother energy”? I don’t know; but I know they’ll never look at a spider again without having the thought pass through their heads.”
As educators we take so much of our power for granted. For the most part, our influence ripples through the world and over the generations silently, unnoticed. Our lessons are seeds. They are blown on breezes far and wide. They are carried by lively streams to rivers and oceans where currents move them to lands we will never see ourselves. Whether these seeds germinate in distant lands or close to home, whether they grow immediately or wait for decades, our gift is nestled in the hearts of our students.
Remember the power of the spider. From lips to lips, from heart to heart; the gifts we bestow, the lessons we teach, ripple through time and place.