Lifing Up

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
-Walt Whitman



I would first encounter this poem in my daughter’s science book, in search of orb spider facts. But instead, my heart slows at the line “Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space.”

While I have tried many times since, I have yet to find a more apt description of this post-COVID life. Of navigating an untethered, ever-connected swirl of news and voices and opinions and angst, flitting between far-flung theories and carefully spun judgments. Looking for solid ground. A place to land for a spell. To catch our breath, or dinner.

“Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space.”

Six feet apart. Enough to keep the germs – and everything else – at bay.

When I was in the trenches of panic attacks, pre-kids and a thousand years ago, self care was lauded as the antidote for anxiety. Take a nap, see the doctor, get some counseling.

Care for yourself.

It was a helpful message for me, in a time where I’d been in a habit of ignoring the fact that I held a body altogether. And then, it wasn’t. The methods amplified, and the offerings were plentiful: juice deliveries, hot stone massages, a nightly glass of peppery merlot. Squares of dark chocolate on the tongue. Pedicures. Hot lemon water. More collagen? Cryotherapy, aromatherapy, retail therapy.

Is it working, this self care? Are we getting better?

I have, since, switched tactics. I began practicing small deeds. Quiet things. Shipping sarcastic pencils and sugar to college kids. Writing long letters, the real kind. Wiping down the sink in my favorite coffee shop. Gathering up a wind-blown Tropicana bottle, throwing it into our own recycling bin.

These things have felt both monumental and completely unimportant, a trail of tiny acts that will amount to very little in the end. But I am forever reminded of Charlotte, the wise and beloved spider who said this: “By helping you, perhaps I was trying to life up my life a trifle.”

The deeds didn’t do much. But the lifing-up-my-life did.

A few years ago, I spoke to a roomful of mothers, aged 20-60. They were juggling nursing babies and aging parents, fractured relationships and strained marriages. They were tired. They were burdened. They were… joyful?

What I learned was this: a few weeks prior, a mother in the group had suffered the unthinkable – the loss of a young child in a freak accident. Within minutes, the group rallied. Mothers swapped babies and visits to the hospital. Ovens were preheated for lasagnas, breakfast casseroles. Funds raised, hands held. One woman watched another woman’s child while she sat at a coffee shop creating the funeral slideshow, and when she returned home, found that a different woman from the group had cleaned her entire home, floor to ceiling.

Each serving another.

It wasn’t self-care. It was others-care.

I don’t know what to make of it all except this: we can practice caring for ourselves, certainly. But if we practice caring for others, we’ve not only lifed up our life a trifle, but we’ve woven one heck of a web to fall into when the bough breaks.

I’m reminded, of course, of the ancient Ecclesiastes words: And if a man prevail against him that is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

It only takes one thread to start.

I remember a particular breezy spring morning years ago, cracking open the windows and doors to inhale the scent of lilac and possibility. I’d had the urge to shoo the littles outside and sip my tea, be in my own head for a bit. Instead, we all walked down the street to drop off a book for a neighbor.

It just made me think of you, I’d told her, and she smiled, invited us inside.

I’ve got a blackberry pie in the oven, she’d said as we walked to the kitchen. Would you guys like to stay for a slice?

Listen: we don’t need more peptides. We need more people (and probably more pie). We need generations spanning generations, weaving legacies of history and great deeds and small, quiet strength. The wise keep us young; the young keep us wise.

The wise need the young to climb the rickety stepladder to find the fancy lemonade glasses on the top shelf, the crystal ones on clearance from Elder-Beerman. And the young need the wise to marvel at their blackberry-stained smiles, to watch them light up the entire kitchen, make us all laugh, remind us to wonder about clouds and the Stegosaurus.

Yes, it is awkward. Yes, she’ll remove her Dentures. Yes, you will learn everything.

It’s no radical act to tether your life to someone else, to weave a web that reaches far beyond yourself and your own four walls.

But it also sort of is, specifically now, specifically in the face of a culture who worships self care, who preaches self-saving, who shouts at women, “Be your own hero!”

Better yet: be someone else’s.

Be a spider. Weave your mundane threads toward something, someday, somehow beautiful, and do it for someone else – lifing up another life, lifing up yours along the way.

Save Wilbur’s life, and you might save your own.



Your Turn: Who can you reach out today, stranger or friend? Who needs a hot meal, or a cold slice, a happy note to tuck under a windshield wiper? Get to work. See what happens.

  • Yes yes yes to all of this ❤️ These beautiful words remind me of what Anne Lamott so often writes about community and spirituality and love. Thank you for the great reminder that it’s often the little things in life.

  • Your words give me life—every time. You help me to think differently, shift my perspective, which is often focused a little too far out on the horizon and not enough on the small, sweet blessings at my fingertips. I hope one day you put your essays together in another book or create some sort of, not devotional, but just a little something for each day of the year. I savored your first book. ❤️Blessings on you and your family!

  • Stunning!! Your essays are worth the wait and a treat.

    I saw your essay in my inbox and squealed internally.

    Love the lifting of others and oneself a trifle!

  • This is so thoughtful. Your essays are self-care for me. It should not be difficult to reach out to bring a bit of joy into someone’s day. It seems a natural thing to want to do. Thank you for sharing. Your words are worth the wait.

  • I love to make and send cards with quotes that touched me when I first read them. Or even a text/quote if time is short….

  • Erin, I saw your post in my inbox early this morning and made myself wait to read it after early morning activities were finished. I sat down in my favorite chair with my coffee and savored each word. I made myself read slowly. Thank you for your gift of words this morning. It is encouragement to continue helping and making time for others. Thank you. Mitzi

  • I want to print this out and read it weekly. You’ve put into words a lot of what I’ve been feeling & mulling over, trying to put into words myself, about the last couple of years. So thankful for your words!

  • I so needed these encouragements in my email this morning. Thank you!!

  • Beautiful note and reminder at the right time in my life.. As always, Liebe, TG

  • Wonderful, beautiful. I especially love this because Charlotte, shortly after she meets Wilbur doesn’t seem to be a good fit for him as a friend. I believe the book describes her as ruthless and bloodthirsty because she traps and eats flies. But they give each other a chance, and Charlotte proves to be a loyal friend to the end. Just a reminder that, when we’re talking about tethering our lives to other peoples, we can’t ever know exactly where we will find friendship- and even rarer, that kind of loyalty. Sometimes it’s hiding in unexpected places!

  • Thank you for your words Erin. As a therapist i have been ‘prescribing’ this kind of self-care, especially since the pandemic. And as others have mentioned here… your words are a treat :)

  • Thank you for your thoughts, and for bringing beauty out of the mundane, and for turning my thoughts back to Scripture. I lost my husband in December, a dearly-loved daughter-in-law in June, and suffer from 3 or 4 chronic conditions, all of which have fatigue as the major symptom. So I know the self-care mantras well. Thank you for reminding me that it is ALWAYS more important to think of and do things for others.

    Blessings on your day.

  • Love this!!!! Have been thinking and meditating on the same thing. Instead of self-care, we need other-care. Instead of self-help, we need Spirit-help!

  • Yes!!

    Reminds me of this James Baldwin quote (from an Art of Fiction interview in The Paris Review);

    “In the main, the concerns of most white Americans (to use that phrase) are boring, and terribly, terribly self-centered. In the worst sense. Everything is contingent, of course, on what you take yourself to be…What I’m saying has to do with the concept of the self, and the nature of self-indulgence which seems to me to be terribly strangling, and so limited it finally becomes sterile.”

    And bell hooks (from all about love):

    “Much as I enjoy popular New Age commentary on love, I am often struck by the dangerous narcissism fostered by spiritual rhetoric that pays so much attention to individual self-improvement and so little to the practice of love within the context of a community.”

    Thank you for writing, Erin!

  • Erin, at 71-years old/young I’ve come to the conclusion that the ministry of presence is the most important of all lessons. Just be there. One doesn’t even have to say anything. Boil water and make a pot of tea. Wash the sinkful of dishes. Fluff the pillow. Serve the pie. It’s what Jesus did. He served bread. He washed feet. He healed the sick. He fed crowds. It’s simple really why do we get our underpanties in a knot when all we have to do is go or open our door. Your “essays” are so much more. Thank you.

  • Thanks for this Erin-your words are always so timely. As a therapist my prescription pad for self care feels like it’s running out; I’ve been prescribing much more “other’s care,” and notice it’s been doing wonders on hearts. Now on to practicing what I preach:) much love!

  • Oh this is so good. Thank you Erin. You always have just the right words.

  • Beautiful words…. And just the words I needed tonight. Sending big hugs today…. Miss you, girl.

  • That is beautiful Ginger and Biblical.Helping others helps us also. Thanks

  • So simple, so powerful. Thank you for your lovely words. I will be using them to inspire my classroom full of 11y year olds.

  • Beautiful, beautiful thoughts put out into the universe. Thank you for your words, and also for your challenge.

  • So much of this made me smile and think. Your writings always have a way of touching a deeper side Erin.. thank you so much for that.

  • Thank you for your words. Post covid, I’ve found myself reaching out and craving connection with strangers in a way previously foreign to my introverted-self. Striking up a conversation in the lift. Offering someone the use of my umbrella. Chatting to children we meet at the park. I want the web.

  • Hi. I was so excited yo read you new blog post . As always it was amazing. Children really do make our day

  • Sweet Erin, What a wonderful read! It came at a time when I felt the walls were closing inand your article reminded me that I needed to get out of my own way. Soooo, I called a dear friend who is going through a difficult time and made her laugh. After that, we both felt better. Thank you. 💞

  • Sweet Erin, What a wonderful read! It came at a time when I felt the walls were closing inand your article reminded me that I needed to get out of my own way. Soooo, I called a dear friend who is going through a difficult time and made her laugh. After that, we both felt better. Thank you. 💞

  • oh erin .. i have missed you .. you popped into my inbox .. your writing is like taking a voyage .. one just gets whisked away into another dimension .. i have missed it .. i was such a faithful reader years ago .. seems like foooooreeever .. but it was really not that long ago .. just seemed a slower more connected calmer time .. love your words ❤️

  • Needed to read this today. Beautiful words. Thank you for putting it out there!! ❤️❤️

  • This is so wise and beautiful! I wholeheartedly agree! Blessings to you. :)

  • I read last year that the self-care we need can be found through our love language. Mine is acts of service and when I started to pay attention to this, something changed for me. Your words align with this. I can’t help but think of Queen Elizabeth as I read your words who somehow embodied this.

  • others care. when is the last time that sunk in? beautifully expressed. thank you.

  • I’ve just finished reading this on September 11. Today does mark the anniversary of 9/11/2001. However, it also marks the one year anniversary that our dearest friend, and closer than a brother, left this earthly life. And here I sit over 500 miles from his wife, my best friend for over 42 + years. She is surrounded today by her daughter, son in law and granddaughters, I have struggled all day of what to say in a phone call or text. And you reminded me that all we need sometimes is people caring for each other. I may not find exactly the right words, but she only needs to know that I care.

    • I am so sorry for your loss, Gayle – and love this beautiful perspective. Sending love to you.

  • When I read this last week, it hit me as the answer to a question I have been pondering: this self-care stuff isn’t really working. Saying “no” isn’t working. So now what? I continued to ponder your words over the weekend, and came back to have another read today. Yes, this is it. It’s not necessarily big, grandiose acts for others, for the earth; the ones that can feel like a heavy lift sometimes. It’s a way of being, of flowing through the day to day with love.

  • For the first time in five years, I find myself with an honest-to-goodness, knock me on my butt cold. Last night, I struggled to let go of the idea that I have to do everything. I left the dishes for the kids and my husband and went to bed. This morning he took the kids to school even though he had an early meeting, and I’m a stay-at-home mom. I’m trying not to feel guilty about it.

  • Oh Erin, what a gift you have to weave words together to catch us, keep us, and provoke us to keep calm and carry on to find in doing so we too may live the abundant life.

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