Becoming Echo: Finding Identity
There once was a spider called Echo. Echo grew up as a special little spider, adored by his mother in a way that bespoke of the two shaping tragedies associated with his birth. The first was the fact that, due to a massive storm that season, he was the egg of that batch which had hatched. In fact, his egg had dangled precariously on a gossamer thread which had miraculously held as his tiny body broke through the shell. The second tragedy was the death of his father just a few days after Echo’s birth, taken in an instant by a sparrow hawk just as he was crossing back over a thread that he had laboured long and hard to stretch across a huge space between two high branches.
In the life of a spider such early tragedy and wounding can set a life trajectory that can find its marks in the ways a web is spun. It can potentially cloud and muddle the motives and purposes for which it is spun. For to continue to gain the adoration of his mother, the bereaved widow spider, Echo believed he had to take the place of his late father and spin a web between the huge space between those branches that had been the site of this legendary spider’s demise. And with the arrival of another older male just two seasons later to spin elaborate webs designed solely to attract the interest and adoration of his mother, Echo, despite his still tender age, had to redouble his efforts.
While the psychological appreciation amongst spiders might lag a little behind their human counter-parts, who can tie themselves up in knots with such stuff without so much as the tiniest thread to show for their efforts, the "father wound" for a young male spider can always find its emotional externalization in a tangled web. And so it was for Echo. His only response to his growing entanglement was to redouble his efforts, even if his doing more and more of the same achieved less and less satisfaction, and less and less attention from his mother. Then there was the scorn of the one who had moved in to become his stepfather. Echo was also blind to how the tragedies he considered to be his, and his alone were also his mothers. These sorrows did etch their way into his mother’s spider psyche. For a long time she could do little more than weep and place her diminished energies into the care for her lone offspring. When, after a long period, her attention returned to her web making, she was less concerned with their functionality and more with their exquisite design. Indeed, if she worked through part of the night the morning dew would settle on their gossamer strands, making it almost impossible to distinguish dew droplets from her tears, with each tiny orb containing the sun’s rays and reflecting in miniscule the world around them.
Echo’s web making efforts continued to flounder. A wise elder spider once commented that you could tell much about a spider’s soul by examining the webs they spun. It is a pity that spiders as a whole are often too busy to keep records or be more fully attentive to such things. That Echo’s tangled efforts told a story each and every day troubled his mother. After her most tentative suggestions met with angry rebuffs, she chose to remain silent even though it pained her deeply to witness her son’s struggles. He constantly overstretched his strands in his strivings for size, and even on the rare occasions when a dew drop would momentarily settle, he would stamping his feet at another tangle, and the life-giving moisture would quickly drain away. So preoccupied could Echo be with a section of a web, that if any of what, in spider language was a word akin to "manna," became caught in the web it had time to free itself before being noticed. Often tired from over-exhaustion, constantly hungry and thirsty, Echo became more and more withdrawn from the other spiders, hostile towards them and the world and angry at nothing and everything at the same time.
Even a spider, with all their legs and cunning, can eventually come to the end of themselves! This could be a moment of crisis. When it came, Echo’s his mother’s stopped her web art and silently and patiently watched over her distressed son. It almost broke her heart to witness him close in on himself, his legs wrapped tightly around his body as if to find embrace. “Is he dead,” a spider friend inquired of his mother. “No,” she replied, “not dead as in dead.” As the friend did not understand this response, and did not wish to trouble a sorrowing mother by seeking clarity, she stopped her spinning and settled down beside Echo's mother to watch and wait with her.
Within his leggy embrace, Echo found no consolation. With no energy to project his anger and discontent at others, its residue of anger and shame seeped inwards causing him to rage against himself. Even with the inner nagging that mimics the voice of a taskmaster spider and appeals to one’s insatiable need for approval and recognition, Echo could not disentangle his legs in order that he might resume spinning. “You have to will your eight legs to move,” the voice continued, but apart from a slight tremor in one, nothing else moved. Though Echo had previously accepted this inner voice, real or not, to be his driver, he simply could not respond, but rather added some of the juice of resentment to the dark torrent which raged within him. “Can’t he see the state I’m in,” Echo muttered so loudly that he startled himself and caused another leg to tremble uncontrollably.
In the body of a spider, which by comparison with many other creatures is tiny, the energy it takes to stir resentment and rage can only be maintained for short periods of time. So fortunately for the already exhausted Echo, it was not long before the ally of all creatures great and small, Sleep, arrived to claim him.
It was during the night, which eventually followed, that his mother and her friend left their watching post and resumed their spinning. Unusual as it is for spiders to work on a single web, this is indeed what happened. Before dawn they returned to their vigil, taking it in turns to keep watch over Echo. Their spinning that night had stretched their minds and wearied their bodies, for what needed to be done had cost them much.
When Echo finally opened his eyes the next morning and with his two front legs had rubbed the sleep from his tiny eyes, right in his line of vision was an exquisitely woven web. The sun had still not dried up all the tiny orbs of moisture, for it will evaporate dew drops ahead or tear drops. At the very moment of Echo’s first gaze, each of these little droplets seemed to magically hold the sun herself, transforming each little globe of sorrow into golden orb of joy. But there was more. As Echo’s gaze moved downward his whole body convulsed. He needed to disentangle all eight of his legs from their death-like embrace to steady him and it seemed he had just sufficient energy to do so. For from the very middle of this delicately patterned web, down to its bottom edge, was a cross-shaped segment that looked to be in a total tangle. And even as Echo regained some balance and composure to return his gaze to this segment, what he saw disturbed him even more.
“Could this be a tear drop,” he wondered to himself. Indeed, it was the collecting point of all the tears shed by his mother and her friend, and what dripped from the bottom edgeof the web was the biggest tear drops Echo had ever seen. Now he could not hold back his own flow of tears and so they pooled with all the others. When the though came that, “those tears are for me,” Echo began to sob uncontrollably. The tangled parts of the web that he could see through his tears seemed to mirror exactly what he was feeling on the inside. And yet, it also mirrored back more of his story with its twists and turns, its tragedies, its strivings, and then last of all and the one most difficult to stomach, what he consdiered as his great defeat. And yet, sad as all that was, it did not end there. For the tangled part of the web was embraced within a web of exquisite beauty. The tangled part of the web did not tell the whole story. Even his feeling of defeat that it mirrored were not its climax. Rather in the face of the great sacrifice of his mother and her friend it held out to Echo an invitation to a new beginning. Maybe, if he recovered his strength he could learn to spin such a web for others. He would need to ask his mother and her friend how he might begin such a task.
Echo did not immediately recover his full strength. It was in his forced immobility he began to learn stillness. It was as he entered willingly into such stillness that he first notice a very slight tugging on one of his front legs. It was a leg that he had rested on the edge of the precious web. It was in stillness that he continued to notice and to eventually realise that, close to where his leg engaged with theweb, a tiny creature of manna had alighted and was struggling to free itself. It took all his strength to move his body in its direction so as to claim it as food. It tasted delicious and, as it fed his almost spent body, he expressed his gratitude for its sacrifice. In stillness and in bringing his full gaze to the web he began to learn its signals, and as more manna strengthened him, he was able to extend his reach.
It was a long time before Echo began to spin again. When he did, his projects were very small. He constantly sought the advice of his mother in their design. Though she would show him simple steps she encouraged him to open his heart to greater possibilities. These possibilities were "closer at hand even that my own advice," she told him. It was the great parent spider who had planted his exquisite designs in the hearts of his children. The spider’s real task was to learn to spin from the heart and. In this way, the work of the great parent spider could be seen in any place they were invited to spin. It seemed a monumental task, but its beginnings could occur in the minute movements of spider feet.
This is how Echo came to discover his true vocation and the meaning of his name. He was to be an “echo” of none other than the Creator of all spiders.