Earlier this morning, I was helping my young friend Evan get a jump start on Chemistry before he starts the school year.  Many high school students view chemistry as tedious numbers and formulas; but for me, it’s always been fascinating.  Of particular interest today was one of the non-essential side inserts in the book.  Here is an excerpt (let the wonder begin!):

Strands in a spider web are about one tenth the diameter of a human hair.  Yet … the silk in the [golden orb spider] web’s frame and spokes is stronger than steel, more elastic than nylon, and tougher than rubber.  Scientists are always looking for lightweight materials with these properties, but they cannot set up farms to harvest spider silk, because a spider will fight to defend it’s territory.

Instead, scientists use biotechnology to produce spider silk.  Scientists have identified the spider genes that contain the instructions for producing silk.  When these genes are transferred to goats, the goats produce milk containing spider silk.  Scientists separate the silk from the milk, purify it, and then spin it into fibers.

©2008 Prentice Hall Chemistry, p. 43

OK, first of all … what the heck?  Who knew such things were going on in the world, on both a natural and perhaps not-so-natural level?  Furthermore, if you were not convince heretofore not to kill spiders, know all the more the wondrous little factory you are squashing if you do.

That said, getting this inside scoop on spider webs got me thinking back to last night.  I was online around 11:00 when one of the kids I mentor popped up in a chat.  We got to talking and, next thing we knew, we were heading off on a whim to see the after-midnight showing of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which, by the way, was a pleasant surprise).  Without giving too much away, there is one graphic in the movie that attempts to depict the exponential effects of a medical phenomenon.  A dot of yellow light appears on a grid of sorts and from it, arms shoot off in all directions like spider legs.  Where each leg touches down, another dot appears, growing new offshoots of its own, and so on.  Soon, zooming out from the grid, the “spiders” and their legs have become a giant, interlaced web.

Recently, Pinocchio was turning up at every turn in my life.  Now spider webs.  What’s the deal?

Rather than questioning, I decided to just with it.

I saw Chad off to Penn State this past Saturday.  But during the summer, we had several talks about something that also reminded me of spider webs.  Chad’s musings went something like this:

Imagine if I could zoom out on my life and see a map of the world that accounted for both space and time.  What if I were just one dot on this map, but I could see all of the strands that connected me to people I’ve positively affected in some direct way.  Then imagine that I could see the strands from each of those people to other people that they have positively affected due in some small part to my influence, and so on.  I wonder what I’d see – how far reaching in space and time one person’s influence really is.

As I considered this would-be map of my own life, I thought with wonder that it very well might look something like a spider web or the grid graphic from Apes.  It was a happy and humbling realization.

I’m convinced that when we allow ourselves to focus too much on our own little “dot” through me-centered thinking, investing most of our energies into making sure it glows brightest on the grid of our life, we actually leave a much smaller impression on the world than if we shine our light on the other “dots” around us.

Mother Teresa comes immediately to mind.  She gave little thought to her own needs or even her appearance, so focused was she on devoting herself to serving the poor, hungry, homeless and diseased of Calcutta.  She did not intend to make an impression or to “grow her web,” as it were.  She did not sit home thinking of what deep or wise thing she could say the next time the press were around.  Her only thought was to help one more.  And one more.  And then one more.  And yet, never thinking of herself, none can deny the influence she has had – and continues to have – on people the world over.

What do you see when you imagine the “web” of your own life?  Do you envision it as small and sparse?  Or expansive and inspiring?

You have enormous potential for positive influence.  What may in the moment seem like only the smallest act of gentleness, kindness, encouragement or good will may have an immeasurable effect.  Consider this until you believe it.  Then, like Mother Teresa, look around you for just “one more.”

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