Will all Freudians please refrain from laughing? Thank you. Last night I dreamt about a snake. (Titter titter *scowl* silence)
There was a woman who had a snake. She had a snake and she loved her husband very, very much. Her husband loved me. The woman who loved her husband and had a snake, she died. The snake slithered into an orange crate at the back of an out building and hid. I went to the snake, called its name. It slithered up my offer, draped itself over my shoulders.
As I walked through my dream, every person I saw had a snake on their shoulders. Some snakes were unacknowledged by their person but they were still there. Sometimes my adopted snake would slither down and consult with another snake. I would chat with the other snake’s person, like you do when Big Nose has to sniff the unmentionables of another dog.
The snake and I met a man sitting on a bench who had no snake. My snake got down and went to him. They consulted. A woman sitting on another bench told the man, who was a doctor, that the sadness of it all was I had to tend the snake, fine snake though it was, who had killed my friend. Which wasn’t true. I don’t know if the snake killed her, but she hadn’t been my friend. Yet to tell the truth would make the dead woman a figure of pity in everyone’s eyes. As an act of kindness, I didn’t tell the truth. It felt like part of the debt.
I woke up from my snake dream with this sentence in my head: The debts we owe each other are the bonds we make. Emotional bonds as debts? Relationships are based on emotional credit? What bullshit. I went to take my shower.
And there between the facial scrub and the shampoo, the snake of debt applied itself to my relationships. Parent and child. Siblings. Spouse. Friends. Big Nose Dog. I didn’t feel that I owed any of them anything. What I gave to these people (and dog), I gave voluntarily. Because I care for them. Because I want them in my life. Because I want their lives to be good.
Those are the easy bonds. The light weight snakes, if you will. What about the wives of the men who love us? What about the opinionated woman on the bench? What about the man of healing who has no bonds at all? If we don’t already love someone, what do we owe them? What snake are we willing to take on our shoulders?
Anyone who has lived into adulthood knows that some snakes are constrictors. Some snakes will coil around your life and press the air out of it so they can consume it. We shouldn’t take any old snake onto our shoulders. But many people at a certain time in their lives, they don’t take on any new snakes at all. They’ve reached their snake quota, so to speak, which leaves many a discarded snake curled up in a dusty old orange crate somewhere. A snake that could lead us to meet new people. A snake that could help us understand and give dignity to the life of a woman who loved her husband and had a snake.
Perhaps the snake calls us to take on something for no other reason than that the debt exists. Or the task. Or the duty. Or the act of kindness, if you will. Oh, altruism, you say. Yes, yes, we know all about that. Good works. Yes, yes, soft hearted people with not much else on their plates, they take care of those things. Not people like us whose lives are filled with children and grandchildren, friends and church and cosying up to the local peer. We give to charity and that’s enough.
And maybe it is. Understanding the dignity of the woman who loved her husband and had a snake, that comes without reciprocity. She’s dead and her snake is your problem now. There’s no love to sweeten the deal. Just truth without bias or self interest. It’s easy to see that taking on snakes isn’t for everyone.