For you, Dad... Little by little, my fear of snakes is easing.
I've never known where my great fear of snakes comes from, but I've never wanted to look at them, talk about them, say the word or even touch a picture of one. I'm terrified of the large fake snake on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland and I feel deep anger and resentment for people who have pet snakes. On the few occasions someone has taken their snake out of it's cage in front of me, waves of anxiety wash over, my skin gets red, my toes curl and I start to cry a little. It's clearly extreme. I have vivid memories of my Dad trying to comfort me at the LA Zoo in the reptile section. He was always so patient and really encouraged me to give them a chance and not be afraid. When I was three, he and I made a special trip to the zoo for the sole purpose of "making friends" with the snakes. My arms and legs tightly wrapped around him like a monkey, my Dad literally carried my reluctant body right up to the container that housed the biggest snake I'd ever seen and introduced us; "Mr. Snake, this is my daughter, Erica. Erica, this is Mr. Snake". My shaky little voice eventually uttered, "Hi Mr. Snake, I'm sorry I don't like you." I'd give anything to hear my Dad's gentle voice reassuring me snakes aren't scary. I'd go to the ends of the earth if it meant I could feel my Dad's small, soft hands wiping my fearful tears away, on the steps of the reptile house, once more.
Until recently, I've never had reason to think about snakes. But about two months ago, I was innocently scrolling through the endless Facebook status updates, UpWorthy postings and quizzes that determine which Disney princess I am and noticed more and more pictures of snakes were showing up on my news feed, in conversation, during horseback riding on Easter and even when I Googled images of bunnies, a picture of a white snake wearing bunny ears appeared. It wasn't even cute, by the way. My biggest fear was now showing up all over the place and I feel helpless, bombarded, even attacked in some ways.
Any hippy-dippy-granola-hemp-eating Los Angeles native will tell you when something is showing up in your life multiple times, the universe is trying to get your attention. I decided to give in and do a little research...
I'm already privy to the mythological and historical symbols of the snake; their dual expression of good and evil, of poison and medicine, etc. But I admit I have been curious about their shedding process. So here's what I learned; Many snakes will become nervous and more aggressive when they begin to shed. They will find a quiet place to hide away and fascinatingly, snakes become blind and deaf, in order to shed properly. Because of this, they are more likely to attempt to defend themselves from perceived threats. Snakes should not be handled during this time as handling them when they can't see is a source of stress. Lastly, snakes will commonly not eat during the entire shedding process. Talk about complete devotion to transformation! They retreat in a way I could never imagine, to adequately rid themselves of that which no longer serves them. Isn't this is the ultimate act of self care? I'm tearing up as I write this because while snakes can easily find the time, the courage, the complete privacy and the resources to turn over a new leaf, humans are seldom afforded that luxury, unless we...die.
This is my eighth Fathers Day without my Dad. Each year feels different than the previous but the longing stays the same. While my Dad has been able to transform in ways I can't experience just yet, I too have been able to morph, grow, retreat, change, evolve and even shed on my own. I'm not down with holding a snake just yet, but I now appreciate a snake's experience of shedding as renewal, the same way I accept my Dad's death as transformation.
I am an active, enthusiastic and proud participant here on the the planet Earth. I acknowledge there are many ways to truly let go of what I've been holding onto and what has been holding on to me, collect myself and join the world with clarity, wisdom and maybe some shiny new skin...as long as I don't forget the sunscreen.
Happy Father's Day, Dad. And thank you.
L.A. Zoo, 1990