You Knew I Was a Snake When You Picked Me Up

This isn’t a great photo, but I did take it myself. Not always easy to be steady when one encounters a rattlesnake in the wild.

Which I have, three different times. What I like about rattlesnakes is, they let you know they’re there before you step on them. Yes, I hear you, nay-sayer person out there. Inevitably when I say that, someone shakes their head and says, in an ominous tone, Not Always. Well, if I ever got near a rattlesnake that didn’t rattle before I got too near, I never knew it. The other times? Yeah, I heard that rattle and jumped back three feet before I even processed what that sound was. Gotta love those hard-wired protective instincts. Thank you, evolution!

We watched Eat Pray Love a little while back. No, I confess I haven’t read it. My mom gave me her copy some time ago – before we moved to Santa Fe, come to think of it – and it’s been sitting in my TBR pile ever since. In both houses. I never read The Last American Man, either, which my friend, RoseMarie, loved loved loved. I have a titch of a trigger about “finding real meaning” stories. Not that I don’t believe real meaning can’t be found out there. It’s just that…erf.

Okay, here’s the thing.

In the movie – and I totally cop to all arguments that Hollywood oversimplifies and probably made this far less deep than in the book – there’s this pervasive idea that everyone you meet is a teacher. This is a very Buddhist concept, that even the person you brush against on the street is connected to you and has a message for you. I always think of places like New York City with this one and I wonder if the Buddhists who first contemplated this idea ever conceived of just how many bodies people would eventually managed to jam onto one street.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Actually, maybe it is. Because, if you go around believing that every single person you encounter has a message for you…well, you’re not going to get much done besides receiving messages. Now, I do believe that we meet people for reasons and we do learn things from each other, but I think we have to apply a filter. We don’t throw out perception and intelligence, in the interest of receiving messages. The crazy person who yammers on about things that kind of sound profound and kind of sound nutty? Might be just nutty. Like the guy at the Ashram in India – he calls Julia on all sorts of stuff, like he’s a greater authority than she on her own life. She learns lessons from him, from his sorrows and it’s all lovely.

The thing is, sure everything in this world can teach us a lesson. That doesn’t mean you have to embrace it. A rattlesnake makes a fine teacher, carrying lessons about walking softly, paying attention, trusting those atavistic reflexes. That doesn’t mean you want to hang out with the rattlesnake.

Sometimes it’s enough to recognize the poisonous for what it is, then walk carefully in the other direction.