Part I: this is the problem.
Today I saw a snake — my first of the season. I’ve been wondering for weeks when they would reappear and worrying a bit on every walk, so it was almost a relief. I heard him before I saw him. My ears are well tuned to a snake’s sneaky moves. The Hubs insists that I see more snakes because I am so intently looking for them. Listening too, apparently.
As a little girl, I developed fears of dogs and snakes. I have no rationale for these fears. Fear often thrives without reason! My mother was afraid of these same things. Fear may be learned, to some extent? So yes, it’s tempting … but as an adult, there’s no point in blaming anyone. I own them. Besides which, my mother managed hers.
Lack of leash laws not withstanding and dogs be damned, she was determined to be outdoors. She loved to ride her bike. She carried Halt! and pedaled fast, at least fast enough. She became quite adept at snake disposal, developing a technique with the flat side of a round pointed shovel that never failed. These are almost matters of survival for Rural Free Delivery residents surrounded by acres of farmland, wet woodland and miles of dogs on the loose. Somehow my mother pedaled and shoveled her way through.
Meanwhile, I’ve been tormented and debilitated by these fears. Countless times, with my heart pounding in my chest, I’ve spun on my heel at the sight of a roaming dog or sunning snake. It doesn’t matter that its’ tail is wagging or it’s only a small one or that it’s not poisonous, so save your breath. And no, it’s not more afraid of me than I am of it.
When I admit my fears folks often chime in, “Oh, I don’t like snakes either!” Well, I sympathize. I don’t like raw seafood. It makes me squirm. But fear can’t be avoided like a sushi restaurant or otherwise explained away. It’s a joy-killer. It stalks you and haunts you.
For years I had regular, recurring snake-mares of various sorts, each ending abruptly as I awoke to see a serpent on my nightstand — oddly, just where I knew it would be. I couldn’t read the word “snake” or view an image of a serpent without a visceral reaction. There is evidence to suggest that fears like mine are remnants of an earlier time, when avoiding snakes or spiders was important to human survival; other research disputes this claim. Regardless, my fears were out of control.
Ironically, I also seem to be a snake magnet. I have more snake stories than you have socks. Friends say, “Of course we will see a snake if you are with us!” Often enough, we do. I take no pleasure in this, I assure you. In fact, until recently I was an inconsolable mess every time a serpent and I crossed paths. As you might imagine, the thrill wears off quickly for my companions.
One autumn day on a gorgeous hike, I was surprised by a sizable snake. He was about six feet long, a dull black, thicker than my wrist, and wrapped around the railing of the stairway to a ravine. In the nick of time, my brain registered what my eyes saw and the rest of my body responded, simultaneously retracting my outstretched arm and initiating a public panic attack. My daughter thoughtfully grabbed my camera and snapped a series of action shots: mom, snake, mom, snake, mom, snake. Great.
My sister tried to comfort me while instructing me to breathe: in, out, in, out, in, out, in. I continued to flail and gasp, proclaiming: BIG snake! Big SNAKE! BIG SNAKE! to the group descending behind us. They were quite taken with the show, chatting as they continued on their way about this unexpected double feature.
One kind but foolhardy gentleman removed the snake to “safety” but did nothing for my fragile frame of mind. I urged him to stop, to save himself! My daughter continued to photograph and my sister began praying on the spot. It was hours before I felt normal again, relatively speaking.
I didn’t realize it at the time but on that day I turned the corner on fear. Since then my progress has been slow, so very slow, but certain. I still hate snakes. I am never happy to see them. Although I continue to find them in my path, I am no longer debilitated. I am overjoyed that the snake-mares have ceased.
My process* reminds me of the story of Naaman, healed of his leprosy only after he submerged seven times as instructed by the prophet Elisha. (II Kings 5 to read it for yourself.) God could have healed him instantly but He didn’t. Naaman had to accept his healing under the terms offered. He didn’t like it one bit. Me, either. But it takes the time that it takes.
~ René Morley
*More about the process in part 2.
And for the other side of the s-s-s-snake story, read Bev’s post. Delightful!