Tonight, the girl, the boy, and I will finish Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. (The girl and I read it 2 years ago, but we decided to reread it together, so the boy could experience it.) But last night, it happened, as it happens every time that amazing book gets read. The children, one tucked in each of the crooks of my arms, sat up in spontaneous glee at the moment when Wilbur roots Templeton from his sleep in the straw, sending him flying through the air before ordering him to climb up and retrieve Charlotte's egg sac. Though they can force-laugh with the best of them (a classic technique of distraction or disobedience), these laughs were hearty and real. Yet mere moments later, the boy was completely quiet (as the girl was her first time around), and the girl was sobbing. Real, true, healthy tears. It was not for show or because she thought it was expected. She was crying because it is sad when Charlotte dies. She was crying for those 514 baby spiders who would not have a mama to bring them up. She was crying because when Charlotte dies, she is all alone. And though I reminded her of the natural life cycle of animals, and how baby spiders don't need a mama like baby people do, and how Wilbur was going to take care of them, she still woke up at 4:30 in the morning and without coming to get me, continued to grieve for Charlotte. I finally heard her, went to her, comforted her as best I could, but her pain was real.
On our class discussion board, a student posted about "In the Gloaming" that the ending gave him shivers. I responded with a comment about how I loved the short story form for its ability to convince us so completely, and in such a short period of time, of whatever crafted world we have entered as to affect our emotional beings. Regardless of length, though, that element is one of the reasons we love story so much. We can be changed by it, we can be affected, we can grow to love and hate characters - mere figments of some author's imagination - and mourn them when they are gone. Though I no longer sob when Charlotte dies, anticipating her death as I was reading it still caused a lump to grow in my throat. But that was last night. Tonight, Joy, Aranea, and Nellie will remind us of that life cycle, of that hope, of the happiness that accompanies sadness - in books as in life.