Last night I finished “Charlotte’s Web” with my little boy. “I feel sort of sad for that spider,” he told me as we got to the end and the little grey spider announced she was going to die. “I know,” I said. “And that is good, its OK to feel bad when something ends. Nothing is forever, and an end is often a sad thing. But we can be grateful for Charlotte, because life is measured by the impact we leave in the world around us, in each other’s lives.”
They say the difference between a little boy who excels and one who does not is measured in words. They call it the “30,000,000 gap”. If that is the case, my little boy is gonna be a genius! But I don’t think its just the quantity of words – it’s the meaning of those words, what they convey, and the healthy emotions that they inspire. It has become obvious that social media, modern television and other “words” increase stress and make people angry and miserable. Now, of course my little boy does not have access to any social media, nor does he have a tablet or an IPhone or play video games or any of the things that mental health experts have said ruined IGen (he does watch cartoons, I am not a monster). There are – nevertheless – too many children who do.
No, instead we read books, lots of them; paper that he can touch and feel and smell, pictures at which he can gaze deliberately and use as a template to build a story in his imagination. And we read good books. “The Hobbit”, teaching him about honor and goodness – right and wrong. “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” teaching him about the deep magic and about sacrifice. “Charlotte’s Web”, a story about friendship. The friendship of a spider and a pig. How that spider figured out a way to save Wilbur’s life as her one great act, and then how she left little spiders before she died to carry on the tradition of friendship. It is a story about loss and sadness and renewal; simplicity and the beauty of the human spirit which is often best shown in the anthropomorphization of a spider and a pig and a rat (humans these days are an exceedingly unsympathetic lot, inspiring few emotions and those only mostly bitter).
As my little boy closed his eyes, satisfied though the story was sad, I was grateful. Grateful to E. B. White for giving me a chance to connect with my boy as together we learn (and re-learn, because the process is never-ending) how to live.