Claire, sporting a baby praying mantis (in lieu of a snail)

“There is a certain depth of illness that is piercing in its isolation; the only rule of existence is uncertainty, and the only movement is the passage of time. Once cannot bear to live through another loss of function, and sometimes friends and family cannot bear to watch. An unspoken, unbridgeable divide may widen. Even if you are still who you were, you cannot actually fully be who you are.”   from The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elizabeth Tova Bailey

I’ve been savoring Elizabeth Tova Bailey’s lovely little book, an extended reflection on succumbing to paralyzing illness and the saving grace of paying attention — in Tova’s case, paying attention to a tiny snail that hitchhiked in on some field violets a friend brought in. The book is part biology project, i.e. Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Gastropods (snail sex; the many uses of mucous, dietary habits of slugs), and part poetry, as the author draws subtle parallels between her existence, slowed by a mysterious mitochondrial virus, and that of her snail companion. But mostly it’s a meditation on bridging divides. On finding connection in surprising places — in a tiny bedside terrarium, in ancient 4th century texts on animals, in watching the minuscule life of a snail unfold in exquisitely detailed richness.

This divide she speaks of is real. A distance grows as my mother continues to lose strength and ability, yet continues, with equal fortitude, to refuse assistance. There’s a silent gulf between my rational sense of safety and responsibility and her emotional need for control, and anger and frustration trickles in to that space between. Before bed, I read of Tova and her snail, seeking wisdom in her gentle observations and pleasure in her lovely writing. And finding nuggets, like this epigraph she uses to introduce Part 2 of her book:

Think not of the amount to be accomplished,
the difficulties to be overcome, or the end to be attained,
but set earnestly at the little task at your elbow, letting
that be sufficient for the day.
~~Sir William Osler, physician (1849 – 1919)



~ by Stephanie on 02/28/2011.

2 Responses to “Audible.Little.Snail”

  1. Stephanie, your wonderful prose always touches my heart. love, Ren

  2. A good reminder for all of us when we’re feeling overwhelmed.

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