By Omar Abdelhamid
“There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up.But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we’ll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them.” ( Bradbury,163)
The itsy-bitsy spider
Climbed up the water spout
Down came the rain
And washed the spider out
Out came the sun
And dried up all the rain
And the itsy-bitsy spider
Climbed up the spout again
“There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up.But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we’ll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them.” (163)
When we are still small, we are told nursery rhymes to help us understand and become familiar with the rhythm of the English language. What seems like nonsense is perhaps put into these rhymes because, well, small children don’t understand it anyway. They sound fun and make babies laugh, so, why not.
But did people making nursery rhymes intend for them to be nothing more than irrelevant pieces of nonsense? Or were they an attempt to share ideas in an undetectable manner ?
If these rhymes do have purposes, their vagueness can be easily explained: it is the result of putting people with ideas in a society that condemns those ideas; the ideas will be released, but the message will only be found by those who look for it, as to avoid danger.
What kind of message could an innocent song like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” reveal?
It is but the story of an ordinary spider stupid enough to climb a water spout, and then it rains and he is washed out, and then he goes ahead and tries it all over again and gets washed out again and again and again, for as long as the child sings the song.
And between every washing out and climbing back up there is a moment of sunshine. The sun comes and dries out all the rain.
What is the sun? And why is it featured in both of our texts, our humble nursery rhyme and the legend of the Phoenix?
The sun is the symbol of a new beginning.
What is old is burned away, and what is new is greeted with warmth.
Our Spider and our Phoenix are very similar. The spider’s futile determination to climb the water spout, to escape the sun, and to go higher could very well be admired. He is not relenting on his odd dream, pushing over and over again to achieve what he wants to achieve. But he does the same thing everytime. And it rains everytime. And he is brought to ruin again and again, and when he is given another chance by the forgiving sun, it is wasted away and no lessons are learned and no mistakes are corrected. This is arrogance, this is an arrogant determination. When a creature insists it is correct in its ways, and despite its constant failure and the clear signs that the status quo is not working, the creature refuses to relent.
The Phoenix is similar. Every lifetime it has it grows old, and then it is given another chance by the sun. It lives a life that causes it to grow depressed when it withers and wilts of age, and loses its strength. And then it goes through pain, being burned, just to see himself live the same life, go back into depression and then back into the pyre, as the spider over and over again goes up the spout and is washed away.
What should our Phoenix have done? Should it have accepted mortality? Would that have encouraged him to appreciate its life, no matter how old he got? Maybe our Spider should have accepted his position at the bottom of the spout. The water would not hurt him as much then.
But immortality! But a place on the top! What grand rewards they would be! But what is immortality if every life is the same, and if the single lifetime reaps the same reward as the thousands of lifetimes? What good does trying to reach the top do if you know you will be washed away and brought back to primitiveness anyway?Are these empty, yield-less dreams?
As a race, humans are so attracted to increases. Humans love advancement, technology, and increases in wealth,status, and power. These are not finite things. The more we explore, the more lost we will be. The more powerful we are, the more power hungry we will be.
Will chasing these desires ever give us peace with ourselves, or will they plunge us into a cycle of disappointment?
Like our friends The Phoenix and The Spider, we will never be satisfied with what had resulted of our actions, but we will continue those actions anyway.
We will grow in power and we will get stronger and tensions between people will grow. Because we keep pretending we can have all of something that is infinite, we don’t share it with anyone. This is the reason for power struggles, terrorism, and war. Because there’s always a chance that the enemy has more power than you.
And we will live in rivalry and we will all burn ourselves, kill ourselves in the process. We’ve seen it happen before, huge exterminations of people because of power, and despite this rain shower and this extreme heat from the sun, we disregard the consequences that are clear to us and continue doing what we were doing before.
And on a softer note, we must remember that our friend the Spider is Itsy Bitsy. When he was going through the spout he was itsy bitsy. When he was washed away he was itsy bitsy. And when he started anew, he was still itsy bitsy. The more we understand, the smaller we become, the smaller we realize we are. The more power we get, the weaker we are.
So maybe simplicity is the key to peace. Instead of chasing after infinity like the Phoenix, lets keep our lives as small and humble as possible in this growing world .
Because the world might be growing bigger, but we are still the same size.