The Reality of Snakes

In his address upon receiving the Nobel Prize, William Falkner remarked that, “the worst thing for a writer is to be afraid.” I could not agree more. In fact, if you truly love to write – by which I mean you would do it if all you had was a pencil nub, a piece of scratch paper, and absolutely no guarantee of publication whatsoever – if you actually love to write then only fear can possibly stand in the way of you having whatever exactly it is you call success. Not talent, not luck, only fear. But I think fear is the most misunderstood emotion human beings experience. Imagine you are sitting in a doctor’s waiting room. Across from you is a man fidgeting with the cuff of his shirt. He seems nervous, but so are you – you’re in a doctor’s office, after all, and all those needles and tests make you uneasy. Like him, you only want to get this business over with so you can return to your life and write your book and know that you are okay.

In the next moment, however, the man’s eyes grow wide and he points at carpet. “They’re back!” he cries. “The snakes are back.”

He pulls his feet up into the seat of the chair.  You look down at the carpet.  There is only carpet on the floor.  You turn to the man, and now he is climbing up the back of the chair.

“What’s wrong with you?” he demands. “Why are you just sitting there?  They’re all around your feet.”

You lower your eyes toward the floor, and for a moment, for just a heartbeat, his fear is so real to you that you think you feel something slithering about your ankle—but no. No, there is nothing there at all.

You are about to reassure the man when he grabs some magazines and begins hurling them at the imaginary snakes just as security arrives to sedate him.

Once he has left, once order is restored, it is time for your appointment. Your pulse is taken and blood is drawn and the doctor tells you the test results will take a day or two to come back. He’ll call you as soon as they’re in.

You leave the office with a familiar uneasy feeling, wondering if you are safe from those mysterious test results, but thinking also of the man and his snakes. How odd, you think. Those snakes weren’t real, but his screams were real. Those magazines were really hurled onto the floor, and security really did come and sedate him. But the snakes weren’t real at all.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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