I’ve been studying a word family that denotes “stretch.”  I’ve also been thinking a whole hell of a lot about friendship, writing and time.

It’s partly that goddamn calendar in my office again.  I can’t decide if I’m crazy or if my calendar is psychic.  It’s probably the first thing.

The word for February is “attend.”  Even before I turned the page to this month and noted the word that <tend> base element was already stretching itself into my subconscious.   

The base <tend> yields words like tendency and tendon and attendance.  You may not intend to cause harm but everyone still does anyway.  How might you cause less harm?  One way is to pay attention.  Another is to notice your tendencies.     

The larger word family of that base includes words like tension and intensify, maintain and tenacity, but also extemporaneous, which is a word one of my kids asked me about recently. 

It’s always a good sign when your kids bring you words to study that you don’t even know.  It’s my job to put myself out of a job and somehow seeing kids collect words like “extemporaneous” reassures me, like I’m somehow doing okay at these things that I set out to do, like teaching dyslexics how to do things and being an honest friend.

Extemporaneous denotes, basically, outside of time.  It’s actually an example of a compressed Latin phrase, ex tempore, which in Latin described things done in an offhand fashion, at that very moment, without taking a stretch of time to prepare. 

When I was studying extemporaneous with my kid we stumbled across the word “tempest,” which surprised us both.   What does a violent storm have to do with time?

Storms are temporary.  If something exists here, in the temporal realm, it’s only here for a stretch of time.  Everything on this temporal plane is, as my teacher says, here today and gone tomorrow.  

Even you.

And all of your contemporaries. 

And every tendril currently stretching tenderly up towards the sun.   We’re here to grow, folks.  Once we’re done growing our temporal existence is over. 

You can pretend that’s not how it works.

But it is.

This morning another student of mine and I continued our study of Charlotte’s Web.  It’s one of my all time favorite books to study with children.  There is so much there: life, death, and a great deal of stretching.

Do you want to know how Charlotte (a spider) saves Wilbur (a pig)? 

 Day after day the spider waited, head-down, for an idea to come to her.  Hour by hour she sat motionless, deep in thought.  Having promised Wilbur that she would save his life, she was determined to keep her promise.

Charlotte was naturally patient.  She knew from experience that if she waited long enough, a fly would come to her web; and she felt sure that if she thought long enough about Wilbur’s problem, an idea would come to her mind.

Finally, one morning toward the middle of July, the idea came.  “Why, how perfectly simple!” she said to herself.  “The way to save Wilbur’s life is to play a trick on Zuckerman.  If I can fool a bug,” thought Charlotte, “I can surely fool a man.  People are not as smart as bugs.”

Charlotte’s Web, pg. 67 

She saves him by writing, which is a bit of a stretch for her because she cannot spell super well.  Being a spider and all. 

Charlotte knows she doesn’t have very much time but she’s not afraid of death.   She sees no reason not to do as much as she can while she is here and so she stretches herself across her web again and again, dancing out messages in spider silk in order to save her friend.

And so it is that the large grey barn spider saves the pig even though she knows she cannot save herself.  She is not afforded the same about of time in her life cycle and she knows it.  She’s incredibly brave up to the very end, and yes, every single time I finish this book with kids I cry.  I can’t help it.  

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte.  Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart.  She was in a class by herself.  It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.  Charlotte was both.

Charlotte’s Web, pg. 184