I hate snakes. Hate is a strong word, but there it is. So imagine my excitement this time last year when we entered the year of the Black Water Snake. I knew it was going to be a wild ride, and not just because I hate snakes: I knew it because a year whose symbolic energy is turmoil and transformation ain’t going to be easy. Your best shot is to embrace your inner Bette Davis and croak, “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy year.”
And bumpy it was. 2013 brought a tsunami of suffering to everyone I know, myself included: divorce, illness, financial downturns, deaths. Big stuff. Stuff that completely changes the course of your life. I experienced multiple losses this year and frankly, I’m done. Gung hay fat choy my ass.
My bumpy year culminated in early December as I lay beside my mother, watching the low, winter sun skim across the treetops. I sank under the comforters and listened to her breathing, her eyes no longer seeing what I saw. I glanced around the room, looking at the familiar remains of a life now past—the jewelry box on the dresser, the framed wedding photograph—and I thought, Isn’t it strange how everything is so important, until it’s not important at all?
Lying in the simplicity of those long moments, I was reminded of the beauty of Death, how it returns us to the truth of what remains, what matters. When you come right down to it, there is nothing but breath and love: Breath that gives us life, and love that makes that life worthwhile. Nothing else matters. Not really. We fill our lives with to do lists and material things and worry, but when it comes time, all of that fades into the shadow of illusion and we are left with breath and love, and ultimately, just love.
Turmoil and transformation are necessary because they bring us to this essential reality. They can lead to incredible breakthroughs and awarenesses, but the process is, as my mother liked to say, rough on rats. A certain wise person I know, we’ll call her my analyst, loves to remind me during uncomfortable transitions that the snake suffers when it is shedding its skin—when it is sloughing off its old self. It’s not easy to shed the old skin. The snake cannot move and it cannot see: the old skin obscures its sight. It is blind and vulnerable.
When your marriage falls apart, or your child has a debilitating disease, or you can’t pay the rent, or someone close to you dies, your skin begins to peel away and, ready or not, your old life begins to disappear. The best you can do at these times is hunker down and wait it through. Shedding a metaphorical skin is a slow and incapacitating process. It is how the superficial and unnecessary are shed, how we evolve and grow, how we become who we are rather than remaining stuck in who we were. It is also a vulnerable and humbling process (humbling, as in, taking one down to the humus, the earth, snake-like).
The deaths we endure, whatever their nature, are in service to life. I really do believe this, even though—and I admit this freely and often—the process just plain sucks. When we are in the midst of the Great Shed, we cannot see clearly and life feels onerous. I was recently lamenting how everything in my life felt as though it were dissolving through my fingers when a voice in my head replied, “Of course. Things have to die before something new can be born.” The tone of the voice was such that it might have just as easily said,“Duh!”
Welcome, dear reader, to my world.
And here we are at the dawn of a new year, the Year of the Green Horse, a year of action and new beginnings, and not a minute too soon, if you ask me. I’m ready to saddle up this horse and ride out of Dodge. As Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Still, it must be noted that it is the terrible power of the snake that leads us to the energy of the horse. Our old skin painfully shed, we emerge ourselves, yet transformed. My fear and loathing notwithstanding, I have a healthy respect for the snake. I do. I offer my respect and I say, “Don’t let the door slam your tail on the way out.”
Dedicated to my mother, who gave me breath and love and who was my biggest fan. May her new life find her young and beautiful, dancing in the arms of a handsome man to the Glenn Miller Orchestra, gardenias in her hair, breathing in love.