Once a slug suffered from severe stress. True, it hardly noticed at first. The early symptoms weren’t that much of a departure from the run-of-the-mill realities of a slug’s life. At most they struck the slug, when they struck it at all, as the kind of thickening torpor that could befall anyone on a damp and dreary afternoon. It wasn’t until the slug started waking up in the middle of the night, covered with clammy sweat, that it began to suspect this wasn’t simply life as usual. Unable to get back to sleep, it found itself troubled by misgivings that grew as the hours wore on. By morning, the exhausted slug could barely move it was so dispirited. It felt lost in its own personal “slough of despond,” as if its mind had come to a stop at the bottom of a long slide into futility and lay there now, paralyzed by feelings of inadequacy and failure. What had it accomplished in its life? While other slugs left a self-confident trail behind them, its own seemed erratic and faint. What could it point to as proof that it had left a lasting mark on anything? Anything. Had the world, in effect, passed it by? Had it missed out on a thousand opportunities for greatness while others turned even the least of their efforts into something that glowed in the sun? Had it been too timid, spent too much of its time in the lightless world of doubt, until it was incapable now of anything else? This was the stuff of tragedy. “Tragedy. Tragedy. Tragedy! Tragedy!” the slug repeated to itself, sensing a growing solace each time it did. There was heft to the word “tragedy,” no question about it, a heft that outbalanced defeat and so might hold back this slide into suffocating angst. Perhaps the slug hadn’t been thinking in large enough terms about its life, then. Could it be that its failures weren’t ordinary ones, in other words, but instead pointed to something far more significant? Was it possible it had been ashamed of its shortcomings when valuing their tragic message more highly was called for? Were its personal disappointments actually archetypal defeats? Might the seemingly feckless course of its existence ultimately prove more telling than a thousand daily triumphs and become a witness to the eternal truth of the slug condition? If so, posterity was bound to grant it ample reward for bearing with today’s distress. What a magnificent reversal of all the slug’s oppressive doubts! Its name would be destined, then, to remain in the collective unconscious of the species long after it had shriveled away into nothing itself. This shapeless confusion of longings, misgivings, anxieties, and self-reproach would be revealed in time to be a mythic symbol of the highest order. “A Slug for the Ages,” it smiled as it slipped into its first good slumber in a long time.
Copyright © 2003-2004 by Geoffrey Grosshans