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Charlotte Taught Me How To Be An Advocate For Others

How a children's book character helped me to become the woman I am today.

I’ll never forget when I was four-years-old and I saw E.T. for the first time with my dad. I was so excited! It was the first movie I had ever seen, and I was going to see it in a movie theater. I felt like such a big girl.

But, as I walked out of the theater at the end of the movie, hand-in-hand with my dad, I was overcome with emotion and began to cry. I did not understand what was happening.

I remember asking my dad why I was crying after seeing E.T. He told me that it was perfectly normal to cry after seeing a movie or after reading a good book. “Sometimes we become so attached to characters,” he said, “that it is hard to say goodbye to them in the end.” 

I still didn’t quite understand what he was trying to tell me. But I began to understand his words a little better when tears formed once again after finishing the book, Charlotte’s Web. I was devastated when I discovered Charlotte’s fate.

I was only eight-years-old, and I had completely fallen in love with Charlotte, the spider. I had never liked spiders, but there was something elegant and lovely about Charlotte that made me want to be like her some day. 

Charlotte was completely selfless. Everything she did, she did for others.

As you may recall, Charlotte became best friends with the new pig on the farm, Wilbur, and she immediately made him feel at home by welcoming him with kind words and friendly conversation.

They became instant friends. And when Wilbur found out that he was soon to be slaughtered, Charlotte devised a plan to save his life.

Extraordinary webs would be spun by Charlotte – webs that would say, “Some pig,” “Terrific,” and “Radiant.” Charlotte brought positive attention to Wilbur. And as the beautiful webs glistened in the sun above Wilbur, he had an opportunity to show everyone who visited, just how terrific and radiant he was.

We all know the outcome – Wilbur wasn’t slaughtered after all. He was known as a special pig, instead, and he would be treated that way – thanks to Charlotte.

While I wish that I could look back on my younger years and say that I followed Charlotte’s example to advocate for others, it was not until I had graduated from college and was working in the advertising world that I realized that I had a greater purpose. I needed to work with children.

So I quit my job and began working toward a teaching career. I decided that I would not just be a teacher, I would be a Charlotte. I would be an advocate for others – an advocate for children.

And when I finally had my own classroom, I realized that my students had become like my little family. I was their protective mama, and my students were my little chickens. And I have felt this way about my students, every year, for the past 15 years.

Over the years, I have done my best to step up for the young boys and girls who did not have a voice – for the kids who might have been misunderstood or lost in a sea of children.

I tried to be the voice for the kids when no one else believed that they belonged in a particular classroom or even in a particular school. I needed to be their Charlotte. After all, so many children feel that they do not have a voice, and if an adult will not be an advocate for them, who will?

But channeling my inner Charlotte as an adult has not always happened on my own.

My friend, Amy, nudged me to go on my first mission trip to Haiti. Had I not visited Haiti, a piece of my heart would have never been left in this country, with these children who need my prayers — our prayers, and our help — every single day.

In another instance, had I not listened to the encouragement of the Palm Beach Fellowship of Christians and Jews to attend my first “Facing History and Ourselves” course on the Holocaust, I would probably not be such a strong advocate today for what should and MUST BE taught to our students in the classroom.

In reflecting on my childhood, I wish I would have been a more confident young person who stood up for others, instead of just following the crowd. If only I could wish away those times when I was just thinking of myself.

But if I wished all of those moments away, I would wish away all of the learning experiences that have made me who I am today. And then maybe, just maybe, I would have not pursued teaching 15 years ago.

And then, where would I be today? Would I still be an advocate for children? I do not know for sure.

But what I do know is that we all need to be more like Charlotte. Believe me, I know that I still have a lot of work to do. We ALL have a lot of work to do.

But ponder this – if we, as adults, could be positive examples for the younger generation — positive examples who advocate for those who need our help — then maybe our children will learn the importance of standing up for others – of being a Charlotte – not just when they become adults like us, but today AND tomorrow AND in the future.

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