On Bumper Cars and Spiders

I watch as the red car with lightning bolts heads straight for the yellow car painted with the words “crash!” and “pow!” The drivers look devilishly at one another, pushing their little cars as fast as they will go, straight for one another. The drivers burst into laughter as the thick rubber bumpers around their cars make contact and jolt the cars apart. Only space exists between the cars where, for a split second, they became one mass of metal and rubber. The drivers, still laughing, turn their attention to other cars and other drivers. A socially-acceptable maniacal obsession overtakes them as they plunge themselves once again into the fray.

We place a high premium on rugged individualism in the United States. We prize gumption and exalt people who seem to conquer life all by themselves. We crave stories of survivors who have managed to escape the worst of situations with little more than their bare hands. I chalk it up to the pride we have in our history of carving a great nation out of a wild and untamed land. I, too, want to know that I could take care of myself if placed in a truly arduous situation. It’s the reason I like to learn new skills.

Our hyper-focus on the individual leads us past the desired sense of self-sufficiency and into the realm of alienation and isolation. In our minds, we become too accustomed to thinking of ourselves as autonomous. We draw thick lines around ourselves imagining that these lines will guard us. We pretend these lines will serve as bumpers, allowing us to bounce off other people unscathed and safe. They will protect us from being tainted by the wrong ideals and impurities of those with whom we come in contact.

Despite what our shared culture delusion would have us believe, we do not simply bounce off one another to find emptiness between us as it was before we met. There are no lines. There are no bumpers. We reinforce this delusion by lauding people whom we perceive as having “thick skin.” We marvel at individuals who seem to bounce off of the worst of life with nary a scratch, not a tear shed or a scar to show for it. These types have been successful at drawing an impenetrable line around themselves and we admire their strength.

But we are not bumper cars. We are spiders. We leave a trail of webbing behind us that never breaks. It may fade, but is never severed. Our lives touch another’s and we lay down a pinpoint, a marker that we have been there and our silken web moves forward from that place. We do not bounce off of one another. We touch and part, not to find empty space, but two threads, one from us and one from the other. Forever our lives will be connected, no matter how tenuously. We may bear scars from the contact or we may be strengthened by it. We also may never remember it but we are forever changed because of it.

People who rode on the same plane as you; the clerk in the gas station; your third grade teacher; the girl in college you eyed in your history class but never spoke to; the child in the store who looked at you for comfort when he had lost his mother; you now have a thread connecting your life to theirs. We may try to break these threads or pretend they do not exist, but the Spirit created them and our power is nothing compared to hers. The threads may fade but they never disappear completely, try as we might to erase them.

Moses laments about the complaining of his people in the eleventh chapter of Numbers. He is tired of hearing them speak of their enslavement in Egypt as if it was infinitely better than their wandering in the dessert. Moses cries to God, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors?”

Dear, faithful Moses. We have heard your argument before. We hear it everyday: “I’m not their parent. Why should I have to take care of them? I don’t have any kids, why should I pay for their education? Where is that child’s parents to teach them better? Parents today are failing their children. If I were their parent, you better believe they wouldn’t act like that. At the very least our teachers should be doing a better job so kids today aren’t running wild and aren’t so disrespectful.”

Moses, you did not carry the Israelites in your womb. You will never know the honor and pain of carrying and bearing a child. That blessing belongs to Zipporah and Miriam. But you are their father, nonetheless, because you draw breath. You are responsible to them because you are a spider, Moses, and your life will forever be connected to theirs, as they are responsible for you. The Spirit blessed you with life and charged you to care for all of creation, the same as she created and charged every person who has life.

My friends, the bumpers are myths. As surely as you read these words, you and I are connected. No space lies between us, just as no space lies between you and anyone else who might read this. Our world is covered in silken webs. We may not see them, but they are there and they call out to you. “Do not forget me,” cries the memory of a grandparent. “Care for me,” cries the line to the lonely and hurting. We hear, “be blessed and loved,” in the vibrations sent over the connection to a most beloved friend.

May we strive not to forget who we are. May we tend our threads and care for and be cared for by those at the other end. May we be more intentional how and why we place our pinpoints, the newest connection, for in doing so we change one another’s lives.

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