SNAKES DON’T LIE
“You are fearless,” a long term client said to me as we met this past week. She had asked me for my thoughts in reflecting back on my early years of starting my own business and this was her kind and very welcomed comment.
“Yes.” Pause. “I am.” I said this aloud and I was surprised at the confidence in my voice as I bathed in the accolade. The BC me, the before cancer me, would have likely minimized the compliment shrugging off its meaning as something to describe someone else. Fearless? I mean I own a facial business, how much fearlessness does one need to sell potions and creams?
Of course, this is not what she meant. For the first time, I acknowledged this without contemplation. I accepted the kind word with deep consideration for its tone as the exchange was passed.
My fearlessness comes from resilience. I enjoy resilient people, especially resilient women. Resilience is relative though- life comes at all of us and we all process how and what we do with the trauma in our own ways. I had a friend who’s mother was a deep alcoholic when we were growing up. Like the type of drinking that made her not do the laundry or grocery shop or pick up her daughter from school alcoholism. The bad kind. My mother drank too, but she was a ‘functioning’ drinker, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. I was always provided for, at least on the outside looking in. With my friend’s mother, her drinking was apparent from the outside looking in and the inside looking out. Over the years of learning about my own family’s trials and tribulations, I found myself comparing these levels of drinking, minimizing my own struggles in living with alcoholism to my friend’s. Comparatively speaking, who was I to complain or think I had problems? My friend didn’t even get to have a refrigerator full of food or get to go shopping for school clothes. These are the material outward coats of armor we kids of “functioning” alcoholics protect ourselves with. I have learned though that our problems and life challenges are only relative to our problems and life challenges. We prevail or curl up and hide and everything in between to figure our shit out. Sometimes other people’s issues help move us along at a quicker pace, but we all still have to march forth. I march forth. The experiences make me march forth because what is on the other side is always the reward for the work. Never disappointed. Always eager for the lesson. And there is no shortage of lessons.
Walking on a beach from one end to another, but the two are not connected. Sachusest Point in Middletown turns into Potters Cove in Jamestown. Climbing over rocks on a beautiful day, making my way easily. I come upon a golden colored snake about ten feet easily. Thick body about the size of my calf. I notice it as I walk by and am relieved to notice that it is likely not alive as there is no movement. Like more than resting, but not dead either. Almost REM like. I am not afraid, but I am not unaware. The snake is really long and thick, golden like mustard with a whisper of muted green, but barely. Not dull and not bright either. Rusty brown, more brown than red, spots along its body.
I walk by on my way. Leaving lots of slithery eel like black snakes where I came from and there is a bucket somewhere. Am I carrying one? Did I leave one behind? Did the bucket have snakes in it? I can’t remember. I walk back past again. The snake is still. Resting or dead- not sure. Turn around and walk back again. This time though, She pokes her head up with no body movement, just her large solid head and takes a good look at me like she is trying to tell me something important. I am not afraid, I don’t feel confronted, I feel noticed by her, not in a way that is vacant, but deliberate. I realize that I didn’t wake her; she was not sleeping nor was she waiting for me. She was commanding. She put her head back down and I consider that now I know she is definitely not dead, I am going to have to walk by her again to get back to where I was and I had a bit of worry about that.
I wake up.
Dreaming about snakes can be unsettling, but this was not my first snake dream. The last snake dream that graced my night was before I was diagnosed with cancer the first time, before I turned fifty, when I first bought my magic kingdom I call my home. Thankfully I happened to have a therapist who is Jungian dream analysis trained among other talents, she helped guide me through the process of discovering some meaning. I drew that dream on paper and it was a piece I really loved. It represented discovery and as dreams unveil layers of truths so often there is a transformative quality to some of the more powerful ones. Transformative? I ‘d say. This dream had the same snakes in them as last time. A lot of black slithery ones and one main chieftress visiting me again. I am trying hard to not read, more cancer on the way, into the dream, but the dream did not alarm. I felt protected and safe, but alerted.
It is no accident that I am wide awake at three am writing this. I have not written for a few days and like not getting to the gym for a few days (that too), the pull of the writing overpowered my need to return to sleep. So, Here. I. Am. This dream was not last night, though; it was this past week, Sunday? Tuesday? I can’t remember now, but this dream felt significant.
Now today we come upon Passover’s first night and there is a blue moon, though not as rare as given credit for, but indeed symbolic and tidy as it lands on the last day of March. I love neat month endings. Snakes visiting me in a dream as the moon’s belly grows in the sky, the peony shoots are awakening through the cold dirt of winter. The bright shrill of the cardinal is singing “Pay Attention! Pay Attention!” And now that the famous woodchuck has no longer taken residence in my garden, wild turkeys have decided that my back yard is their new favorite place to hang out with their own tribe.
Last Passover, I didn’t have a Seder because the first night of Passover was also the day I came home from the hospital. Even my own overachieving love of gathering the tribe would not be possible. I had not missed a Passover since the year before I got married, but for some reason, I was ok with it. What choice did I have? Let’s see, double mastectomy recovery with double drain bags hanging off my body or Passover celebration. I am guessing God would forgive. Passover is a transformative holiday. It symbolizes freedom, movement, birth, death, self discovery, trust, new beginnings and shedding old thinking, starting anew.
It is the story of Moses (and please let’s not forget Miriam, she was really the one who took the first step, but we know how these stories of our history go), escaping enslavement in Egypt and leading the tribe across the Red Sea as it parted for their escape. Miraculously it closed back up so the army of Egyptian soldiers couldn’t follow. They tried and drowned. This miracle was God’s doing and as The Israelites looked back at the drowning Egyptians who had tried to chase them into the sea, the newly freed Israelites danced and sang, mocking the Egyptians. God said, “How can you sing when my children are drowning?” Of all of the metaphors in the Passover Seder, this is one of my favorites because it reminds us to stay humble, a lesson that never gets old. The Germans have a word for rejoicing in another’s bad turn, called Schadenfreude– the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another. The word is really one of those perfect words that can’t be defined in any other language. Comparing our own traumas to another’s to give your personal pain less potency is in some ways a little schadenfreude.
The Israelites learned their first of many lessons in humility as they began their dark and stormy journey into the unknown looking for the Promised Land.
Aren’t we all looking for The Promised Land in our quests for fulfillment? I wonder at the significance of this recent dream in the timeliness of its arrival. I have shed layers of myself in the deep intense process of recovering from early stage breast cancer twice. I have minimized the trauma every time I define it as “caught it early,” “early stage,” like somehow it is “not that bad.” Kind of like “functioning alcoholic.” It is almost like a personal schadenfreude.
This snake appearing in my dream has messages for me that will come soon for sure. This is the unveiling and unraveling of the core parts of me as I allow full transparency in my vulnerabilities. Nothing to hide and everything to gain. Full head on literal and figurative exposure. Just like Miriam put her toes in the sea first and only recently got the credit for it at our seders, just like walking by the snake and allowing the two of us to meet with only a small but healthy amount of trepidation. In all of the other life coming at me moments, I have learned humility in the process. The humbling lessons of awakening and transformation from these lessons stop me in my tracks and I am a better human, a better woman and most importantly, a grateful and humble one.
This is Fearlessness.