-- Yukio Mishima, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea
I stand under our back porch, look up to the rafters, and suddenly I am on the edge of the world. A dying grasshopper takes me there. A spider several sizes his junior cradles his head in her arms, appears to kiss his brow. I’m not fooled. She is sucking the life from her paralyzed prey.
The grasshopper stares at the world around. Does he see? If so, what? And for how much longer? How did a creature of pasture and field meet his fate so high above the earth? How did he of such long legs, strong thighs and powerful kicks fall prey to so spindly a captor?
The spider eyes me with what looks like suspicion, then pulls her prize upwards towards her web in the corner. I admire her strength, cunning, determination. I wonder what I would say should she invite me to dine with her.
Judging by his size and appearance, her meal is leeward of middle age. He was a graduate student, I imagine. Hopper U. Theatre major. Liked the limelight. Copped a thrill from being up on stage, having all eyes on him. Assumed that others saw himself the way he did. Never considered that some eyes fastened on his body for reasons other than his art or physique. That there were those who saw him as dinner waiting to happen. A protein-rich meal to be taken in, chewed up, shat out.
Too late for him the lesson he teaches me: not justice, but fate is blind. The universe beneficent? Tell that to this aspiring actor, bound and hanging upside down, one leg pulled away from his body at what seems an obscenely painful angle.
Arachne’s daughter doesn’t care that her catch has a family, a home, a history. A favorite song. A little sister. A future that once stretched ahead of him further than he could jump. Comrades who even now expect him to join them any minute.
Here in miniature is spun the destiny of us all. The fates who spin, weave and snip the threads of history do so without regard for any one individual. “We want historians to confirm our belief that the present rests upon profound intentions and necessities,” says Foucault. “But the true historical sense confirms our existence among countless lost events without a landmark or a point of reference.”
Ask the immigrant. Ask the exile. Ask the reject of society. Ask the bereft mother howling in the war-torn heartland. Ask my friend Jim, diagnosed with cancer the day after he turned 40.
I eye the grasshopper. Life is tragic. I watch the spider wrestle with her super-sized meal. Absurdly comical. I stare into unseeing eyes. A tragicomedy in all too few acts.
How to live in such a world? How to embrace “what is” when it is happening to me? I hope the grasshopper had moments of bliss, from time to time soared on wings of joy. Tasted dew. Made love. Felt the sun warm on his back.
To savor the moment. To feel into pain. To somehow choose hope over despair in defiance of all the facts. To say yes.
Able to offer the dying actor nothing more than this, I keep my eyes on him during his final scene.
This essay appeared in The Letter, February 2008