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Issue of September 17, 2014

A hope note
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A hope note
Dr. Wayne Willis reflects on life and hope.

Lifting others

April 16, 2014 | 10:00 AM

If I had to name my favorite children's book, it would probably be "Charlotte's Web," the story of Charlotte, a spider, who saves Wilbur, a pig, from the slaughterhouse.

Wilbur, stunned, asks Charlotte: "Why did you do this for me? I haven't done anything to deserve it. I've never done anything for you."

Charlotte replies: "After all, what's a life anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, what with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a little. Heaven knows, anyone's life can stand a little of that."

A student once asked anthropologist Margaret Mead for the very first sign of civilization. Was it an artifact, maybe a tool, a pot, a piece of art, a fishhook, an arrowhead or a musical instrument?

Mead said that the first sign of civilization is a healed femur. A femur — the thigh bone that joins the hip to the knee — is one of the body's largest and strongest bones. It takes six or more weeks for a fractured femur to heal.

For people dependent on hunting and gathering to live, a fractured femur meant you were totally out of commission for a long time. For at least six weeks, you were dependent on someone else not to abandon or forget about you, but to bring you food and protect you from predators and nurture you back to health.

Looking out for self alone is the old law of the jungle. Helping each other, according to Mead, is the beginning of civilization. Charlotte the spider said as much to Wilbur the pig: "By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a little."

Dr. Wayne Willis


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