The Itsy Bitsy Spider and the Pheonix

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

 

 

phoenixo

There is a bird that lays no eggs and has no young. It was here when the world began and is still living today, in a hidden, faraway desert spot. It is the phoenix, the bird of fire.

One day in the beginning times, the sun looked down and saw a large bird with shimmering feathers. They were red and gold–bright and dazzling like the sun itself. The sun called out, “Glorious Phoenix, you shall be my bird and live forever!”

Live forever! The Phoenix was overjoyed to hear these words. It lifted its head and sang, “Sun glorious sun, I shall sing my songs for you alone!”

But the Phoenix was not happy for long. Poor bird. Its feathers were far too beautiful. Men, women, and children were always casing it and trying to trap it. They wanted to have some of those beautiful, shiny feathers for themselves.

“I cannot live here,” thought the phoenix and it flew off toward the east, where the sun rises in the morning.

The Phoenix flew for a long time, and then came to a far away, hidden desert where no humans lived. And there the phoenix remained in peace, flying freely and singing its songs of praise to the sun above.

Almost five hundred years passed. The Phoenix was still alive, but it had grown old. It was often tired, and it had lost much of its strength. It couldn’t soar so high in the sky, nor fly as fast or as far as it was young.

“I don’t want to live like this,” thought the Phoenix. “I want to be young and strong.”

So the Phoenix lifted it’s head and sang, “Sun, glorious sun, make me young and strong again!” but the sun didn’t answer. Day after day the Phoenix sang. When the sun still didn’t answer, the Phoenix decided to return to the place where it had lived in the beginning and ask the sun one more time.

It flew across the desert, over hills, green valleys, and high mountains. The journey was long, and because the Phoenix was old and weak, it had to rest along the way. Now, the Phoenix has a keen sense of smell and is particularly fond of herbs and spices. So each time it landed, it collected pieces of cinnamon bark and all kinds of fragrant leaves. It tucked some in among its feathers and carried the rest in its claws.

When at last the bird came to the place that had once been its home, it landed on a tall palm tree growing high on a mountainside. Right at the top of the tree, the Phoenix built a nest with the cinnamon bark and lined it with the fragrant leaves. Then the Phoenix flew off and collected some sharp-scented gum called myrrh, which it had seen oozing out of a nearby tree. The Phoenix made an egg from the myrrh and carried the egg back to the nest.

Now everything was ready. The Phoenix sat down in its nest, lifted its head, and sang, “Sun, glorius sun, make me young and strong again!”

This time the sun heard the song. Swiftly it chased the clouds from the sky and stilled the winds and shone down on the mountainside with all its power.

The animals, the snakes, the lizards, and every other bird hid from the sun’s fierce rays — in caves and holes, under shady rocks and trees. Only the Phoenix sat upon its nest and let the suns rays beat down upon it beautiful, shiny feathers.

Suddenly there was a flash of light, flames leaped out of the nest, and the Phoenix became a big round blaze of fire.

After a while the flames died down. The tree was not burnt, nor was the nest. But the Phoenix was gone. In the nest was a heap of silvery-gray ash.

The ash began to tremble and slowly heave itself upward. From under the ash there rose up a young Phoenix. It was small and looked sort of crumpled, but it stretched its neck and lifted its wings and flapped them. Moment by moment it grew, until it was the same size as the old Phoenix. It looked around, found the egg made of myrrh, and hollowed it out. Then it placed the ashes inside and finally closed up the egg. The young Phoenix lifted its head and sang, “Sun, glorious sun, I shall sing my songs for you alone! Forever and ever!”

When the song ended, the wind began to blow, the clouds came scudding across the sky, and the other living creatures crept out of their hiding places.

Then the Phoenix, with the egg in its claws, flew up and away. At the same time, a cloud of birds of all shapes and sizes rose up from the earth and flew behind the Phoenix, singing together, “You are the greatest of birds! You are our king!”

The birds flew with the Phoenix to the temple of the sun that the Egyptians had built at Heliopolis, city of the sun. Then the Phoenix placed the egg with the ashes inside on the sun’s altar.

“Now,” said the Phoenix, “I must fly on alone.” And while the other birds watched, it flew off toward the faraway desert.

The Phoenix lives there still. But every five hundred years, when it begins to feel weak and old, it flies west to the same mountain. There it builds a fragrant nest on top of a palm tree, and there the sun once again burns it to ashes. But each time, the Phoenix rises up from those ashes, fresh and new and young again.

 

 

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.

 

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