“I’m less than two months old and I’m tired of living.” How weary life can seem sometimes! Even for a young pig lying in a manure pile, with fresh slops to eat and a warm barn to call home, life seemed almost unbearable for Wilbur.
I didn’t discover the story of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White until well into adulthood. When I finally did read it for the first time, I was captivated by this tenacious but lonely piglet – the runt of his litter – who was nursed back to health by a kind girl, but then sent to live in a barn alone. Wilbur lives in this barn, friendless and bored. He tries his best to befriend some of the other animals: Templeton the rat, a snobby lamb, a goose sitting on her eggs, but to no avail. When the farmhand comes to feed Wilbur his breakfast, Wilbur is too sad to eat. “Wilbur didn’t want food, he wanted love. He wanted a friend.”
After a miserable day of crying on the barn floor, refusing his food, and being force-fed medicine by the worried farmer, Wilbur decides this has been the worst day of his life, and doesn’t “know whether he could endure the awful loneliness any more.”
Then, out of the darkness of the barn, “came a small voice he had never heard before…‘Do you want a friend, Wilbur?’ it said. ‘I’ll be a friend to you. I’ve watched you all day and I like you.’” How well this sentiment echoes the still small voice of God that reverberates in our hearts during our own darkest hours.
The next morning, Wilbur discovers the voice who spoke to him out of the darkness was Charlotte, the spider. An unlikely friend for a piglet, but as Wilbur discovers over the course of the story, never a truer friend could be found. As Wilbur and Charlotte’s friendship grows, so too does Wilbur. “He ate three big meals a day. He spent long hours lying on his side, half asleep, dreaming pleasant dreams. He enjoyed good health and he gained a lot of weight.” It seems life can’t get any better, until a wise old sheep lets Wilbur in on a secret: the farmer and his family are planning to kill Wilbur when the cold weather sets in, and eat him for Christmas dinner. Wilbur responds as the majority of us do at the prospect of dying:
“I don’t want to die!" screamed Wilbur, throwing himself to the ground. "You shall not die," said Charlotte, briskly. "What? Really?" cried Wilbur. "Who’s going to save me?" "I am," said Charlotte.
Thus begins Charlotte’s plan to save this young pig, whom she has grown quite fond of. She begins weaving messages about Wilbur into her web. “SOME PIG!” reads the first message. The farmer and his family are amazed and dumbfounded. The farmer declares, “There can be no mistake about it. A miracle has happened and a sign has occurred here on earth, right on our farm, and we have no ordinary pig.”
As the weeks go by, Charlotte’s messages continue. “TERRIFIC” is the next to appear, followed by “RADIANT,” and “HUMBLE.”
“But Charlotte," said Wilbur, "I’m not terrific.” "That doesn’t make one particle of difference," replied Charlotte.
And truly, it doesn’t. For it is not Wilbur’s opinion of himself that matters; rather, it is through Charlotte’s eyes and the words she writes, that people begin to see Wilbur for who he is; who he is destined to be. Wilbur becomes a terrific, radiant, humble pig due to her presence in his life.
After Charlotte has successfully saved Wilbur’s life, she dies. The life of a spider on this earth is relatively short, after all. Her purpose – to save Wilbur – has been fulfilled:
“Your future is assured. You will live, secure and safe, Wilbur. Nothing can harm you now…. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur – this lovely world, these precious days…”
In his response, Wilbur voices the thoughts I often have about Jesus’ great sacrifice for me:
“Why did you do this for me?" he asked. "I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you." "You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing."
What greater purpose do we have on this earth, than to be a friend, as Jesus has been to us? To carry his message in our hearts and display his love through our actions?
Though Charlotte dies at the end of the book, she has not left Wilbur alone. He is now surrounded by barnyard friends: the geese, the sheep, and even the surly rat, Templeton, all hold a dear place within his heart, and he in theirs. Even more importantly, Wilbur has taken it upon himself to care for Charlotte’s eggs, and when spring comes and they hatch into young spiders, he is there to tell them all about Charlotte and what she did for him.
Stories like Charlotte’s Web remind me of the love and friendship Jesus has given to each of us. Though I fail daily to be as faithful a friend as Jesus has been to me, I continually strive to see others, and myself, through Jesus’ eyes. We are all terrific (and radiant and humble), not because of anything we have done, but because that is how Jesus sees us.
Alisa Williams is a life-long resident of the Andrews University community. She spent her childhood naming the cows at the dairy, exploring the nature trails that wind around Lemon Creek, and finding adventure in the maze of buildings on campus. Nowadays, you’ll most often find her hunting down antique treasures, writing children’s stories, or being walked by her two 70-lb. rescue dogs.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6030