A woman probably has about 450 egg cells available in her lifetime; in the U.S., perhaps one or two of those become children.
A man, of course, has millions and millions of sperm, but again, only a handful become children; even for overachievers, a couple hundred is high – and still a tiny percentage. Most of those potential lives go nowhere or at least nowhere we know of besides the clothes washer. So all of us here have won the big lottery. We held the winning ticket for a life on earth. Here we are. What should we do? A great question, and often surprisingly hard to answer.
When my daughter was four, we watched a not-very-good video of Charlotte’s Web: mediocre graphics, unmemorable music. But one part stuck with me and gave me new thoughts.
What is Charlotte’s Webabout? A girl who’s unwilling to accept the rules, the price tag of death that hangs on life, and in the case of her pig, an unfair, early death since Wilbur had been born a runt.
So the girl intervenes in the accepted order. We readers and viewers support this. We too hate death. We too hate the suffering of innocents and especially of the weak (although a lot of us like bacon and ham). But even though she eats ham for breakfast, Fern is willing to stand up and speak out for her pig, willing to take on received opinion, traditions about how things are and always will be. And she succeeds. She gets a stay of execution.
Then E.B. White takes us on a little detour to make some amusing points about writing and fame. Charlotte, the spider who writes, “Some Pig” on her web is obviously the talented one, but the public only notices and responds to the message. The public doesn’t think about the production of words, who wrote them, for what
purpose and how well, but the content, the dream, the literal meaning. It consumes words raw. So, Wilbur the pig becomes a hero though he’s nothing of the sort.
Later, after his triumph at the fair, Charlotte tells Wilbur she won’t be going home with him. She has completed her purpose, written her message, laid her eggs, and now she will die. She accepts this, but Wilbur is brokenhearted. To Wilbur and to us, her end seems a terrible thing, but in the video, Charlotte sang a little song about how we are all children of Mother Earth and Father Time. For reasons unknown, we’ve been selected to walk around on earth, and it’s a strange, mysterious situation. A gift and a commonality.
I’ve never been a big truster of nature. Sure, I love trees, ocean waves, and sunsets as much as the next person, but when the chips are down, Mother Nature is deaf and blind. She’d just as soon kill you as help you. It’s pointless to plead. As Annie Dillard noted in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Nature has set it up so that most babies die: most baby fish, most baby spiders, most baby antelope, most baby everythings. “Nature, red in tooth and claw.” Yeah, that about says it.
We humans are the first to break the chain. Like Fern, we’ve interfered in the order of things and made exceptions for the few. But Charlotte’s Web helped me think of it differently, have a different perspective. Yeah, life is cruel and crazy. It’s a crap shoot that I’m here at all. For some unknown reason, I get to live a human life as long as it lasts. There will be suffering, and I’ll die in the end, but it’s kind of a privilege to have been here at all, a child of those inattentive parents, Mother Earth and Father Time. What’s it all about? I don’t know. But it is a rare jackpot and while we’re here, let’s look around, think and talk, feel and write about this lottery we share and, as humans, influence. And maybe sometimes, let’s interfere in the natural order, not with huge destruction or grand ambition, but because of compassion for one particular being.
Let me end with the words of the Korean spiritual leader, Ichi Lee, who created a Declaration of Humanity that fits wonderfully well with the Network of Spiritual Progressives’ stated goals.
- I declare that I am a Spiritual Being, an essential and eternal part of the Soul of Humanity, one and indivisible.
- I declare that I am a Human Being whose rights and security ultimately depend on assuring the human rights of all people of Earth.
- I declare that I am a Child of the Earth, with the will and awareness to work for goals that benefit the entire community of life on Earth.
- I declare that I am a Healer, with the power and purpose to heal the many forms of divisions and conflicts that exist on Earth.
- I declare that I am a Protector, with the knowledge and the responsibility to help the Earth recover her natural harmony and beauty.