Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Snail on the Second Floor Window

It was stuck, both literally and figuratively. Perilously perched 20 feet above the flower bed, a common snail had fastened itself to the outside of our large bathroom window. I'm not sure whether this particular snail was stubborn, determined or, like most mollusks, mindless. But I knew that in short order the snail on the window would expire. I imagined it sobbing tiny tears and saying, "I should've listened to my father. He told me to keep my foot on the ground. But oh no, I thought I knew better. I wanted to climb higher than any snail had gone before. I would be a hero. I felt invulnerable, supercharged, unstoppable. I never considered the dangers I encountered; the starlings that dove at me, the sun that baked my mucus into glue, the rain that made my footing slick and the constant threat of falling to a crushing fate. And now I have met my end in this lonely place. What a fool I have been!" 
I was fascinated by the snail that had succeeded to climb up and suction itself to the outside of the second-floor window. The fact that such a thing intrigued me is either a commentary on my own mindless and meaningless musings, or a magnetic attraction to metaphors. Either way, take your pick, but not before you finish my short story.

One of the inevitable results of Parkinson's disease is slowing down, whether one wants to or not. I have tried hard to fight it. I just can't get used to it. For example, in my mind I should be able to get ready in the morning; shower, shave, brush my teeth, comb my hair, button my shirt, buckle my belt, and tie my tie, as quickly as I did in years past. But I can't! I take longer. And the faster I try and go the more frustrating a process it becomes. Finally, typically well along the way, I recognize a significant number of limitations. Everything just takes me longer. But it still feels like I am moving at a snail's pace. 
Not just people with Parkinson's, but all of us can learn things from the lowly, slow-moving snail; the Terrestrial Pulmonate Gastropod Mollusk to be exact. First, a snail labors under a burden, the shell it must carry. But more than a burden, the snail's shell is actually part of it, growing, alive and yet somehow distinctly different. The natural tendency for a snail is to recoil into its shell when poked or prodded. But a snail cannot make progress or care for itself when hiding. 
But a second thing can be learned by observing the shell of the snail. While beautiful with its ringed curls, few recognize that this commonplace site is a logarithmic spiral. Something as vast and significant as our own cosmos, the Milky Way, is a form of logarithmic spiral. However, the hurricane, with its power and potential destructive force, also constitutes the same natural shape. It is as if the character of the snail is expressed through it shell. 
Thirdly, snails are not all that slow! Imagine if you had to carry your house at the same time as trying to slide one saliva-coated foot along the ground or wall.  Moving at the pace of four to six meters an hour would feel like supersonic speed. After all, given the snails can live for 10 to 15 years in some circumstances, what's the hurry?  It's all a matter of perspective. 
Which brings me to my final question: why did the snail climb so high only to die in the process? You will be surprised to know that it was to warn other snails. The need for a snail to climb occurs when it is affected by a dangerous chemical or infection in the area. As a snail's tissues go into necrosis, it gives off a distinctive (to other snails, at least) scent, which warns others of danger in the area. A snail that is about to die will climb as high as it can, so that the scent spreads farther.

The now empty snail shell is still stuck to the outside of our master bathroom window. It stands as a silent sentinel, warning others of danger, as well as modeling beauty in a burden, courage and a cause and self-sacrifice for others.

1 comment:

  1. Learn something every time I read your blog.

    This example of getting ready in the morning reminds me of one of the funniest reads I've had. My friend has every kind of arthritis there is. She has been the local president of the arthritis support group. She wrote a book about 10 years ago that her arthritis doctor gives to all new patients. I read the book last year and almost died from laughing. She can take tragedy and hardship and turn it into humor. Her chapter on fixing a bowl of cereal was the funniest read ever. I cried from laughing. Just imagining her snail walk from refrigerator to kitchen sink with a two handed hold on the milk jug. The movement of bowl to sink, the movement of cereal being spilt into the bowl in the sink with crippled arthritic hands and then the milk being tipped over from counter into bowl in sink. The way she wrote it was hilarious and yet, you see the pain, the hardship, the drama she faces each and every day to do simple things that us "regular folks" take for granted. Your blog has inspired me to write her to blog, if possible. After her 7th hip replacement surgery, and 2 shoulers, and numerous knees, not sure she can type a blog. But if she still can, she is an inspiration to others just like you are. Thanks once again.