For the last few days, my children have been watching “Charlotte’s Web.” On a loop. Without cease. This is entirely my own fault, and I know that. I’m the one who went and got them the movie for Channukah. I’m the one who said, like an idiot, “Hey kids! Let’s all sit down together and watch this new movie before dinner!” I’m the lunatic who said, “When we’re done reading The Secret Garden, we can read the book of Charlotte’s Web too!” I am also the one who has spent much of the last few days crying my eyes out and trying to dissect why.
On the surface, it’s pretty obvious. Charlotte’s Web is a really sad movie. Wilbur is going to die, everyone knows he’s going to die, and he’s supposed to just make peace with that. Then this friend shows up who promises to help him, so he won’t die. She spends literally her entire life saving his, and then SHE dies. He finds a little comfort in watching over her children… and then they abandon him at the first chance they get.
EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS STORY IS TRAGIC.
And yet I love it. I know I’m not alone in loving this movie. Obviously, my kids love it, or we wouldn’t have it on around here, constantly. I’ve personally seen about half a dozen Charlotte’s Web themed tattoos. (I find these are particularly popular among writers- there are some GREAT quotes about writing in the movie, and WAY more in the book.) It’s a gorgeous story, and even if the animation is… well.. mediocre by 1970s standards, the movie manages to be beautiful as well. I had remembered it from my own childhood and adolescence as something that made me sad, but now? As an adult? I can’t even hear the harpsichord arpeggios that accompany the titular song without crying. Not just choking up, full on crying.
I asked my kids what their favorite part is, and I was really shocked by their answers. SI liked the goose- not a surprise, she’s a bird. RH likes when Wilbur does back flips. But DD?
“My favorite part is when Charlotte dies.”
“My favorite part is when Charlotte dies. It’s really sad.”
“Because she gets to have her babies, and she wanted to have babies!”
Wow. Wow, kid.
And after that conversation, I hid in the pantry and ate Cadbury Creme Eggs and bawled like a baby. But DD had given me the information I needed to figure out why I just can’t handle this movie now.
Charlotte and Wilbur are just too damned relatable to me and M.
When M and I got together, I was going through trauma. (Like Wilbur being sold to Zuckerman.) I was being stalked and threatened, and genuinely feared for my life. M made me laugh when I was at my worst, and he was a true friend to me. Then, when I thought my whole life was sort of fixed, he had to go and get terminal brain cancer. (Like Charlotte announcing to Wilbur that she’s dying as soon as his life is safe.) So that makes me cry like my whole world is collapsing. God, I feel for Wilbur so hard. To have such a good, good friend- to have somebody who knows you and loves you and only wants what’s best for you… and then to learn that you’re going to lose them as soon as they’ve finished putting together the pieces of your shattered little life.
But then, it also works the other way.
M was diagnosed with astrocytoma, and I was there. I didn’t let him sit around and cry, I made him move forward. I took care of him, I comforted him, and I forced him to live under the assumption that yes, he would live. M likes to tell me that I saved his life, and I don’t particularly like to think about it that way. But for now let’s say, sure, I did. In the same way Charlotte didn’t really save Wilbur’s life, she just planted ideas in other people’s heads. So I help M get through his chemo and radiation, and we start this family together… and then what happens? Charlotte dies, but she dies happy. Because she knows Wilbur will be okay, because she knows her children will go into the world and do great things. (For spiders, anyway.) And she is completely at peace with her death. And THAT slays me. Because if I could, if I could spend the entirety of my life making sure that M would live… I would do that. Without hesitation. I would die happy, knowing that in life, I had been able to protect such a deeply wonderful person.
I weep because death is inevitable. Mine, M’s, everyone’s. There’s nothing I can do to prevent mortality, and I spend a lot of time thinking about death. It’s something I absolutely can’t avoid.
I have to consider, when M and I think about changing jobs or moving or anything, what about life insurance? What about health insurance? If we moved to Texas*, where would I bury M? If we sold the condo and bought a project house, would that be a safe place for him to live if he had to start chemo again? If we moved to a suburb where he had to drive to work, what would happen if his seizures increased to the point he couldn’t drive? I have to think about the possibility that things are going to get bad again at the exact same moments I have to assume that they aren’t, because to act otherwise would be reckless, to say the least.
The constant awareness of death is unescapable in our family, and in that way we’re like Charlotte. Charlotte knows, from the beginning, that a spider’s life is short. She knows she won’t live to see Wilbur’s security. She knows she won’t live to meet her children.
And she is okay with that.
And so Charlotte makes me cry because she is so much better than me. Because she has so thoroughly made her peace with the inevitability of death.
“We’re born, we live a little, and we die,” she says.
It’s so simple.
Aside from all that, I think Charlotte’s Web makes me cry because it is the best love story I know. Because it expresses the unfathomable importance of friendship, and while there is no explicit romance between Charlotte and Wilbur, we all know the love is there.
Charlotte tells Wilbur how important it is to her that he’s been her friend, that he never had to do anything more for her. That is love. That is how love works. You don’t love somebody because you expect things of them. You love them because of who they are, and even more, who they are to you.
I love M for all the nights we’ve stayed up way too late, laughing about absolutely nothing and simply enjoying each others company. I love him for all the afternoons we used to spend on the couch, him playing video games and me reading a book. I love him for all the letters he wrote me before we started dating, all the jokes and the casual support and the understanding of who I am and who I was and who I wanted to be.
He was my best friend before he was my boyfriend, and there is nothing I did for him as my fiancé I wouldn’t have done for him as my friend. Because I loved him so dearly. I loved him so much that all I wanted was for him to live long enough to be happy, for him to have what he wanted from life, his grand successes, and to watch his children grow and have children of their own, even if none of them could ever fill the place in my heart where he was.
And in that way, I see that I am Charlotte and I am Wilbur at once. Confronting mortality from its many angles, confronting the meaning of love, and friendship, and hope, and acceptance.
And as I sit in front of my computer, crying again, the lyrics of Charlotte’s song play again and again in my head.
“The autumn days grow short and cold, oh what a joy to live. How very special are we, for just one moment to be part of Earth’s eternal rhyme?”
It is such a joy to live. And it is just a moment in eternity that we have this opportunity, this sliver of time in which we can love, love so deeply that all that came before and all that comes after can have meaning. That we can love so hard that we are willing to sacrifice and suffer, if only to make another person’s infinitesimal moment of eternity brighter.
The last thing that makes my heart bleed about Charlotte’s Web is a throwaway lyric- a bit of the title song.
“Sometimes when somebody loves you, miracles somehow appear.”
My life feels like a miracle that M has given me, by loving me so much. And sometimes, when he tries to convince me I saved his life, I wonder if maybe, just maybe, maybe my love was strong enough to make a miracle happen. Maybe there is some kind of magic in the universe that love painfully, agonizingly rendered can pull into the world and use to manifest miracles. Maybe M’s life is a miracle I made by loving. Maybe his life is a miracle he made by loving me.
I can’t think of the nights after his diagnosis, of the way I felt, without experiencing physical pain. It hurts to love so hard, and to have your heart break. To feel something inside you, beyond the physical, shattering. Maybe the miracle is that the shattered, awful feeling went away. That I ever got to feel happy again.
That I have the luxury of waiting for Charlotte to finish making her egg sac, so she can lay down and die peacefully in the rafters.
That I can share even part of my tiny sliver of eternity with my best friend.
How very special are we.
*We are not moving to Texas.
Read More about me and M’s romance- Me and My Valentine
Read yesterday’s post- The Time Is Coming to Audition for Listen To Your Mother!
Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.