Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lessons From A Snail

I heard a lovely story on NPR's Morning Edition today. It was an interview with essayist and short-story writer Elizabeth Tova Bailey, who has just released a new book from Algonquin Publishing entitled, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. It recounts her experience with a mysterious illness that struck her in her mid-thirties and made her so weak that she could not even sit up. 

While confined to her bed, a friend brought her some violets in a glass bowl to brighten up her bedside. At the base of the flowers, Ms. Bailey discovered a snail. Since she was unable read or watch television, the snail became her constant bedside companion and entertainment. She began to figure out its patterns of movement, and the more she became involved in this tiny creature's life, the more connected they became. 

Because she could not move at all, watching the snail go about its laborious and painstakingly slow travels around the plant took on special significance. "It moved at a speed that was actually faster than my own speed," she told NPR's Scott Simon, "And so it really was peaceful to watch it. It moved so smoothly and gently and gracefully, it was like a tai chi master."

Ms. Bailey remarked that her experience with the snail reminded her of this poem:

I Heard A Fly Buzz (465)
by Emily Dickinson

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -
The Stillness in the Room 
Was like the Stillness in the Air -
Between the Heaves of Storm -

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -
And Breaths were gathering firm
For the last Onset - when the King
Be witnessed - in the Room -

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away
What portions of me be
Assignable - and then it was
There interposed a Fly -

With Blue - uncertain stumbling Buzz -
Between the light - and me -
And then the Windows failed - and then
I could not see to see -

To read and hear more about this interview, go to:



1 comment:

  1. I heard the same piece on the way to our meditation this morning and was enchanted. I have a friend in England who has suffered from something similar most of her adult life. One of the most frustrating aspects of it for her has been trying to convince the medical establishment that she has some real (and she herself trained as a physician!).