Sing, arachnid, sing

By Soncirey Mitchell
Reader Staff

Kids are the creators and caretakers of humanity’s wisdom. Without their innocence, curiosity and ability to dream, none of our great creations or feats would exist. I was recently reminded of just how smart kids are when I met a wise girl named Eleanor, who summed up in one ghost story a lesson I’ve spent my life learning and relearning.

Singing is the secret to overcoming fear.

In her story, she talked about how she avoided death at the hands of a disgruntled ghost by singing her heart out until she could escape. While I’ve never intentionally serenaded a spirit, I have sung in the face of another danger many times: spiders.

I developed a reputation for being a popsicle as a child, since my body grew up far faster than it grew out. Swimming was a challenge without any meat on my bones, because not only would I sink immediately, it only took about 20 minutes for my lips to turn blue from the cold in an indoor pool.

Seeing as I live near a massive lake, staying dry wasn’t really an option in the summer, so one year my mom gave me her old scuba suit made to withstand freezing ocean temperatures. It was bright red with ridiculously thick padding that made me look like an off-brand version of DC’s The Flash. Moreover, once it was wet it was impossible to get off without the help of at least two adults.

On one occasion after I’d been sufficiently vacuum-sealed into my scuba suit following a beach day, my friend decided that she and I were going to walk back to my house using what she dubbed “the shortcut” — about half a mile uphill over crumbling slate and through dense underbrush. A summer storm had coated the lower half of the mountain in a thick layer of dust, revealing swaths of hobo spider nests so thick they completely covered the grass in patches.

Halfway to heatstroke in 25 pounds of wet neoprene, my face and hands torn from the brush, I decided two things: I hated my friend and I was going to die singing. We sang every camp song either of us could remember, using the lyrics to distract from the cobwebs in our hair. “Da Moose” — about a hungry moose that dies and gets eaten — was our personal favorite. It just felt timely.

It wasn’t until my final year of college, under eerily similar circumstances, that I remembered what I’d learned on that fateful summer day. While in Greece, I had the privilege and misfortune of studying under a professor who was from New York and so did not fear death. He forced our class to hike to the top of Sphacteria — one of the few spots in Greece without tourists since it’s nicknamed “Spider Island.”

The overgrown trail was blanketed on all sides by webs, wherein thousands of spiders competed to capture a precious few bugs and unwitting undergrads. I counted 307 spiders before we reached the trail’s end. The gorgeous view of the Mediterranean was absolutely not worth it.

We were free to set our own pace on the way back, so we sacrificed the tallest among us and made a run down the hill. Even with a six-foot-two-inch-tall boy at the front, brandishing a stick — as the Spartans might have nearly two and a half thousand years earlier during the slow parts of Peloponnesian War — we still took web after web to the face.

With the caboose of our party on the verge of tears, we all came together to sing breathless renditions of “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage and hits from Green Day’s American Idiot.

We were out of tune, half of us forgot the words and we had to pause every so often to spit out bugs.

For me, singing — especially horrible, heartfelt singing — is the only way to make it through the terrifying absurdity of life. Without music and a bit of humor, we’re left exposed to our fears, and they grow all the more insurmountable.

Next time I’m consumed with a feeling like I’m climbing a mountain of spiders, I’ll remember Eleanor’s wisdom, and sing until I’ve bested my fear.

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