Monday, June 6, 2011

Tiny Encounters

As a member of the online book club, From Left to Write, I received a copy of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating from the publisher, gratis. I was not paid to write the following article, which was inspired by the book. You can read other members’ musings and impressions by clicking here, on June 6th.

Imagine being so ill and debilitated that the simple act of a friend bringing you a snail for company would overwhelm you—the towering sense of responsibility that accompanies having another life be put in your charge.

When I read this in Elisabeth Tova’s Bailey’s beautifully crafted book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, I was reminded of my daughter, Sophia’s arrival into the world.

True, I was not simultaneously suffering from an acquired mitochondrial disease when she appeared on the scene, but I was recovering from the trauma of an internal hemorrhaging while learning to care for her. Somehow, she survived those early days, when I was confined to a bed and could barely lift her to my chest. But I think any mother, healthy or sick, could relate to the bewilderment of those first weeks. The sudden duty to keep another person not merely alive, but cared for and safe, with little inkling of how to do so.

Like Bailey, who did not know what to feed her snail, I agonized over how much milk my daughter was getting, whether she was putting on weight, if what I had was sufficient nourishment.

Like Bailey who became a careful observer of her gastropod companion, I watched my daughter with great curiosity and took copious notes on her bodily functions with scientific precision.

Like Bailey, who sought to understand her snail’s microcosmic world by nocturnally reading all things snail-related, I became an information junky, pouring over parenting books during sleepless evening hours. I wanted to understand her interior life. I wanted to provide her with an optimally hospitable environment in which she could thrive. I wanted to marvel at the miracle of growth and development.

And also like Bailey, who learned so much from a snail, I discovered that it was Sophia who would ultimately teach me what I needed to know, who would serve as my mentor as I let my life slow down and began to relish the joy of existence.

It is often the tiniest encounters have the greatest impact.

1 comment:

Emily said...

I like your take on this book. Treating pets, even snails, like children most often happens when a person is childless. Most of my free time is now spent studying my child, worrying about him and his special needs.

My cats have had to take a back seat to my son, but they have been pretty good sports about it. I think snail wouldnt mind a kid or two either!