From E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. (Wilbur is the first speaker. (If you’ve not read the book, Wilbur is a pig whose life was saved by Charlotte, a spider)):
“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
If you follow the Imperfect Happiness page on Facebook, you saw a portion of this quote yesterday. I’ve read the book several times, but listening to the audio book with my daughter yesterday, this portion struck me. Not only is it a wonderful description of how friendship exists simply for the purpose of friendship, but it also answers the “what’s the point?” question I asked about friendship in my Existential Angst and the Cross-Country Move post.
The point I read in Charlotte’s comments to Wilbur is that life is a mean and tedious undertaking, and we know how it’s going to end. But we can elevate ourselves above the mundane mechanics of life through our friendships and by helping other people. It also says something about how letting ourselves be helped can be a blessing to the person giving the help.
A friend came tonight to pick up a table I’m parting with. She hugged me, and she told me about how much my words and encouragement during her early months nursing her son helped their breastfeeding relationship to succeed.
“I don’t think you know what a difference you made to us,” she said. Before she left, we were both crying.
So, yes, two hundred years from now, nothing much will remain of me. And yes, once I leave Utah, I will be making a life for myself 2,400 miles away. But I’ve left a piece of myself in the care of the women around me. And goodness knows they—and Utah—have left their mark on me.
Disappearing isn’t possible. And that’s a great comfort to me, even as I recognize that it’s the very reason that leaving is painful.