Living on the streets of Norfolk, Va., I try to find beauty when I can. Nature seems to be the best source. I can often see a hawk soaring overhead or a rainbow. I once tried to stop and smell the roses. I was told if I didn’t leave immediately, I would be arrested. But, of all the beauties I’ve seen, one stands out.
One morning, I had finished my breakfast at a soup kitchen and was walking back downtown when I saw a spider web in a tree by the sidewalk. It was the most perfect web I had ever seen: Each strand was perfectly spaced, and the sunlight shining on it made it look as if it were spun from gold.
After a few minutes, I decided to find the artist, so I went looking for the spider. People must have thought me crazier than usual as they watched me walk around the tree, staring at its branches. I didn’t find the spider, but what I did find was that the web would only glow if you stood precisely where I stood when I first saw it. If you looked from any other angle, the web was nearly invisible. From this, I knew that in a few minutes the sun would rise too high to make the web glow. With the web being nearly invisible, someone would probably walk into it and it would be gone the next day.
I gave it one long look and continued on my way.
The next morning, I hurried back to check on the web. As I had feared, it was gone. Isn’t that the way it is? You spend your life making something perfect and then something comes along and takes it away. I sulked away, ready for a day not much better than the spider’s.
I spent most of that day and a good part of the night thinking about the spider and its web. As I was about to fall asleep, I was struck with something I don’t often have: hope.
The next morning, I was up bright and early to get back to that tree. Maybe the spider had survived the destruction of its home. I asked again, as I had asked over and over the previous night, “If the spider is still alive, what will it do?” I pictured it giving a spidery shrug, sighing, and starting to spin again. As I turned the corner and saw the tree, I didn’t see a web, but as I walked past the tree, I saw the most beautiful thing nature has shown me to this day: a new web. It wasn’t as perfect as the other: it was smaller, the strands were at irregular spaces, and the angle was wrong. It would never catch the sunlight.
But it had caught a fly.
Paul Berry is a homeless writer living in Norfolk, Va. He is involved in the Catholic Worker program there.