Tuesday 12th October ’21.
Today I killed a spider.
Not a deliberate act, I hasten to add. It lived in one of the woodbins behind the house. I was filling the bin then let go of the lid just as I noticed the large black spider that’s been living in it for a while was sat on the top edge.
I grabbed for the lid but-“Too late Ethel”- it fell and crushed her. Lifting the lid, the still twitching, but ruined body fell to the concrete and the sole of my boot was employed to administer mercy, and finish that which I had inadvertently started.
I felt sorry, but not ashamed in any way as it was a complete act of chance; or was it?
Was the spider’s time up no matter what I did and if so had it made a difference in any way by its living in the first place?
I recently dreamed vividly of Elaine; I knew that I was dreaming but she was there large as life. We talked and I asked her why she had to go. She simply replied “It was time” and looked very sad as she said it.
After my sister Sue died I had a similar dream. We were talking on a street full of people and I said to her “I wish you hadn’t had to go”. To which she replied “So do I” with that same sadness. Then she turned and walked away and I was aware that I could not follow.
This blog shares similar ground with the last one-“Seconds”. That ground is time and what or when anyone decides ‘it’ or it’s duration.
Every living thing, be it spiders or humans, will eventually lose that ability to live. Death comes to all and we tend to perceive our lives as a long or short duration of time; but what if it’s the events in a life that matter most not the span of time it covers?
My great friend Ian died of cancer some 30 years ago in 1991. This was also the year of Elaine’s first cancer too.
When he died I was deeply upset and complained to Elaine that his was too short a life, his time cut off somehow.
“Try to look at it as a life complete”, was her reply.
“He’d done all he was meant to, duration might not come into it at all”.
It’s true that Ian (or big G as we called him) touched many many lives in his short one. He was one of those larger-than- life characters who could make lasting friendships in a hovel or a palace. The fact is 30 years after his passing he is still talked of and remembered with humour and affection. To those who knew and loved him he will never be fully gone.
His life made a difference, but what about that of the spider?
I, of course, believe that Elaine died too early but was hers a life completed also? Her life criss-crossed and intertwined with so many others and then in later years she began to touch a lot of lives with her writings and observations of what is under all our noses, if only we would bother to stop look and listen.
Living with the constant shadow of early death sharpens the senses-even if it is not your own death that threatens- I can fully attest to that.
Elaine uncovered joy and wonder in the strangest of places, even spiders webs, but how many of us healthy ones just pass on by, oblivious to the miracles surrounding us?
And life is a miracle I defy you to say or think otherwise. Just stop as she did and wonder at the beauty and the cruelty of it all.
A couple of years or so back I came home and locking-up the car I noticed a small spindly fly dangling, caught in a cobweb. It was desperately trying to free itself to no effect. Without intervention it would die, its time over, but did that matter?
For whatever reason I decided I was going to be that intervention.
It wasn’t a housefly just a little creature that seemed no more than a few hairs stuck together, so I pulled out part of the web plus the fly and laid it all in my hand. It seemed to sense a new chance and renewed its efforts to be free of the net.
I carefully dragged away some of the strands but its limbs and wings were so frail that I feared of dismembering it, but still it struggled for its life refusing to give up. By now I was wondering why I had started this, it would be easier for me to just call it a day and swiftly end the fly’s distress, but I admired its spirit and sheer will to live so decided to finish what I had begun.
I clicked open my pocket knife and carefully pulled and cut at the web against the palm of my hand.
It took some twenty minutes of our combined efforts but then suddenly it was free and flew upwards; I almost heard a cry of joy.
Then the strangest thing of all.
With no lie, it flew round in front of me, circled my head twice and seemingly hovered for a few seconds before my eyes, then it was gone.
I felt a strange elation, how stupid, just a little fly.
I related the story to Elaine when she got home, “It was thanking you” she said.
“But it was just a bandy little fly” I replied, “What real difference does it make when millions probably die in a day?
“Made a difference to that one didn’t it” she said. “And maybe it’ll make a difference somewhere else, and so on”.
“I don’t really see what difference that thing could make anywhere. It may even be dead by now”.
She was silent for a few moments, but her reply still makes me think to this day. “Maybe the difference was not for it, maybe it was meant for you. Perhaps your act of compassion, the loss of twenty minutes from your life has saved you somehow, some accident or injury possibly, you’ll never really know; but tell me do you feel like you wasted your time Mark, do you feel foolish”?
“No, I don’t”, was my truthful reply.
“Then it was the right thing to do regardless of where the difference lies, or with whom”.
It didn’t occur to me then but I’m wondering now how did that fly perceive me?
Was I part of its world, or was I something so huge and alien that even though we share the same space it had no real conception of my ‘being’? Yet its weird actions when freed say different.
A couple of months back I was sat outside in the evening drinking a beer -and memories with it; both cats were with me as they used to be when Elaine and I sat there together. I casually noticed a large group of gnats flying round and round in a sphere they had formed about the size of a football.
They just kept on spinning in their own mad little universe seemingly oblivious to all else; I’m certain they had no consciousness of me watching from only a few feet away. I could so easily have interfered in their world, but why would I? I just watched, fascinated by the urgency and skill of their gyrations.
Did those gnats, all long dead now, have a concept of time hence their frenzy, their lives lived at a faster rate of completion to our own? Did they understand limited time better than we do, and what difference, if any, did they make by existing in the first place?
Are we those gnats to something so much vaster than us that we have little or no consciousness of our being watched as we spin round and round? Something that could, but rarely does, intervene in our lives; or do we know that intervention and label it luck or fate or chance?
Strange I’ve never really thought along these lines before; before Elaine died that is.
I keep wondering where is she? And I don’t mean the burial ground!
I more than half-hoped she would ‘visit’ somehow if only in my dreams, but it hasn’t really happened, at least not to the extent or way that I had wanted.
Perhaps I wouldn’t be able to carry on or move on if she were still ever present in my life in a 100% way. I can’t think that she is here constantly, if she is then what’s the point in her dying in the first place?
Was Elaine’s life/work complete? When is that decision made if it’s made at all, and by whom? And has she made a difference by her living?
I’ve asked a lot of questions I know, but it’s all so raw and unreal that I’ve no real answers to suggest. Death and dying throw out the ‘What’s and Whys’ but any potential answers are really unprovable beliefs belonging to the individual.
There is no proof of continuance after we die that can be held aloft to public satisfaction and approval.
But belief persists.
Though why should we continue on and not the spider or the fly? They too are of this world and just as dead to it when they ‘pass’.
Whilst I have your attention, if you’ve not all fallen asleep by now, I would just like to say a big thank you to all who tuned-in to the Horse Husband and Cancer book launch live on-line a couple of weeks back. We all thought that it went very well and like to think that Elaine would be pleased too.
My greatest thanks must go to Anna and Crissi who have done so much, especially on the night itself. They I know are used to this sort of situation and they undoubtedly carried me along with their professionalism and belief in the book itself, I remain ever grateful.
It’s funny but that sort of thing, appearing live and reading to the world (my own words some of it too) would normally have seen me a bundle of nerves days beforehand and most likely making a ‘balls’ on the night itself.
But I was strangely calm and not flustered at all and felt confident in myself; I hope that came across OK.
Mike watched the video and said he’d now seen a side of me he never knew existed in all these years- so did I!
I reckon it was the red wine and more than a single measure of my wife.
My thanks also to Julie and John for the use of their Wi-Fi and their larder! (John was the cook – Julie the technician).
Please do give your comments on the book, especially reviews online. Please do buy and read it in the first place!
We really do so much want to get Elaine’s story of her fight for her right to live as she wanted out into the world at large. If you read this work and believe it should reach a wider audience and you have contacts or ideas that may achieve this then please do try your best.
This is not said for myself, but for one whose existence burned bright in the lives of so many others and actually did I believe make a difference; and who I and many believe deserves to be remembered far beyond her years among us.
I’ll write again soon, and try not to ask so many bloody questions, -but- if any of you have any answers…
A Horse A Husband and Cancer is available in paperback and ebook at all online booksellers includiding: Amazon, The Book Depository, and Barnes and Noble. Or ask your indie bookstore to order it.
9 thoughts on “ WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?”
Mark, you did a marvelous job, both with the book launch and your contribution to Elaine’s book! I think that we all make a difference every day by the things we do, and by the things we don’t do. At least I hope so, if we don’t, I have squandered my life working in animal welfare. That question and the other, of time allowed are the biggest ones we face as humans. I am sorry I did not have the opportunity to know Elaine, I found my way to the Barnies too late for that, but I have enjoyed her writing and yours as well. We may never know the answers to those big questions, but I think we get a bit closer with every small act of kindness.
Oh if only we had the answers …
I’ll share the Amazon link to the book on my blog if that’s okay with you.
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This is the link to my blog, not the one that appeared in the comment form above.
Sorry this keeps altering as I post a comment. I am: https://asmallerlifelivingsimply.blogspot.com/
Mark, I am always so pleased to see a blog arrive in my inbox. I have also pondered these unanswerable questions. Walked the tightrope between facts and belief. And arrived, as you seem to, at a truce with what I don’t know. The dreams of your loved ones are, I believe, visits. Proof that life goes on after we leave these bodies? I don’t know. What I do know is that my heart (and I hope yours) is comforted. That is enough proof for me. Thank you for the honor of joining you and Anna on the live launch, and the greater honor of getting to know Elaine more, through you.
Oh Mark I’m so sorry I missed the launch. I was taking a little break off Facebook for a bit for a multitude of reasons and in the interim I seem to have missed loads of important stuff. Just wanted to say I have a comment as a family member related via marriage and that is I think the book is FANTASMAGORICAL and I am putting in my order immediately. I know it’s not related to this particular blog but I thought I would comment anyway. X
HI, Mark. So pleased to find this essay from you in my mailbox. I enjoy your ponderings of life’s unanswerable questions. It seems we do so often have to grieve those who leave what seems too soon. I do believe all life has meaning, spiders and gnats, and all of nature, but of course I can’t tell you exactly what that is. I’m with Elaine on all that. It seems she was somewhat of a mystic, and so am I.. sure wish I could have met her in person.
I so enjoyed the book launch and you seemed very confident and were quite articulate. I have finished the book recently, loved it of course, and will be delighted to write a review on Amazon. Anna says the reviews are what fire up the search engines, and of course we want to do that for you and Elaine.
Pondering life and perhaps what happens afterward has always been in my thoughts. Unfortunately no concrete answers to that one. However, I do feel strongly that spirits of those that have gone remain with us.to talk to and interact with on a different plain.
I have rescued 5 abandoned and abused Chow Chow dogs over the last 30 years and each time that they leave for the Rainbow Bridge my great sadness generates the need to rescue another one and I wait for the sign that their spirits find me the next one to send to me. I lost my last beloved little girl in January and said that I could not do it again because of my age etc. but sure enough she sent me a precious little senior 10 year old girl in early March who had been dumped in a shelter to be euthanized. So once again their “furever home” and so much love for them continues.
Who knows what happens when we lose our very loved human species but once again I do know that their spirits remain with us so strongly and help us to keep going.
I do love the book and it keeps my darling cousin Elaine “alive” for me!
Much love, Sharon
I don’t know the answers to such deep life questions, but I believe that Elaine did and continues to make a difference in the lives of others – including mine and my mare’s. You, Anna, and Crissi did a a great job with the book launch, and you seemed completely calm and confident. I love the book, and Elaine’s poem and your writing were wonderful additions.