At bedtime tonight my daughter and I finished the last few chapters of Charlotte’s Web.
I knew that the sad part was coming. I braced myself for it.
Lily knew it was coming too. As soon as Charlotte decided to get in the crate with Wilbur, Lily curled up under her covers and hid her face. She sensed that something was going to happen to Charlotte. She knew that Wilbur would be fine.
Even though I braced myself, the final chapters still took my breath away.
I haven’t read Charlotte’s Web in many years, though it is probably my all-time favorite book from my childhood. Maybe my favorite book ever.
I remember hearing somebody say (I wish I could remember who – was it you, Lester Laminack? Or maybe it was somebody else?) that Charlotte’s Web is a book you can read again and again. It should never be designated as belonging to one single grade level in a school. You can read it when you’re seven, like my daughter, and take away one thing. Then again when you are seventeen, and then again at seventy and every time is different.
This time, I noticed that again and again, Wilbur tries hard to live up to the words on Charlotte’s web: some pig, radiant, terrific, humble… and because the web says the word, people see it in him.
If you’ve been lucky enough to have a mentor (or two… or three) than you know the experience of having somebody, like Charlotte, who announces to the world that you are terrific–and because they said it, other people believe that it must be true and you try your best to live up to it.
This winter one of my friends and mentors, Kathleen, passed away unexpectedly. As I read Charlotte’s Web this time, I realized that she was Charlotte. I am Wilbur, just trying to live up to what she said to be true of me.
I cried a little harder than I really wanted my daughter to see when I read that sad part tonight, thinking about Kathleen and all the beautiful webs she created in her too-short lifetime.