This morning I noticed a small brown spider, about the size of my little fingernail, sitting under a windowsill.
Upon closer inspection I saw she was sitting on an egg sac that was as big as her.
Cute though she was, I didn’t particularly want one thousand of her babies crawling around the house, so carefully I put the egg sac on a piece of paper, took it outside into the garden and carefully placed her and the sac on a branch of rosemary.
There was me – a big, huge giant, the equivalent of you or me being picked up by a skyscraper. What did she do? Did she crawl away and hide? No, she held firm to her egg sac.
It got me thinking… about love; and instinct.
That mother spider was willing to lay down her life for those babies. Is that unconditional love? Or an encoded reflex to ensure the continuation of her genetics? When my boys ask how much I love them, I tell them I’d jump in front of a train if I had to. What about that?
Is love a rational, spiritual, essentially human phenomenon? Is there even such a thing as unconditional love? Or is it simple instinct? Perhaps we’re not as removed from the rest of the animal kingdom as we like to think.
Later, I went back to check on the family and discovered that Mrs Spider had disappeared.
I couldn’t find her anywhere. Had she abandoned them, and thus shot my theory to pieces? Or had she been eaten by a bird or a lizard? I would never know.
Meanwhile the little baby spiders had started to emerge from their spider womb, all legs and translucent exploration. Some had pulled their rip chords and were hanging from their spinnerets, swaying in the breeze, waiting to be carried off to distant lands; or plants at least.
But Mothership was being attacked by ants. A few were crawling over it, trying to get at the babies. Others were chasing after babies on the run. One poor baby had been caught by two ants who appeared to be playing tug-of-war with it.
I was shocked. I felt responsible for those babies.
How could that sac go from the loving embrace of eight legs, full of motherly love, to the invasion of six legged killers?
But that’s my judgement, from my perspective. If I was on the ants’ side I’d consider that they had a whole village of ants to feed, and genocide on their conscience if they failed to provide.
In this case my allegiance lay with the spider babies, so I carefully picked up the sac, brushed off the ants and moved it to another plant. I stayed and watched for a while to make sure there were no other ants in the vicinity.
Here the threat wasn’t ants, it was other spiders. I’d clearly encroached on the territory of a small black, very aggressive spider. Though it was no bigger than the babies, it started engaging in mortal combat with one. I carefully moved little Mr Wrestle Mania… Hopefully not into someone else’s ‘hood.
With the sac of refugee spider babies now given asylum on another branch, I went back to my pondering… They weren’t my babies. They didn’t contain my genetics. So why did I care about them? Why did I feel responsible for them?
Maybe this is proof of that mysterious force we label unconditional love… I.e. Love for love’s sake, with no expectations, demands or conditions.
And maybe love is neither rational or instinctive. Maybe it’s something completely its own, or maybe its both.