Once a snake tried to pull on each of its discarded skins again, all the way back to the year of its birth. The effort wasn’t easy. In fact, the pain caused by trying to squeeze into earlier measures of life and its promise was agonizing. The boldness that had pushed the snake to shed each skin in the first place for the prospect of something greater felt so constraining now. At the high point of its existence, basking in the warmth of maturity, the snake might have been excused for sparing itself this ordeal. It could have been quite content with the skin it was in, enjoying the satisfaction that came of feeling you’d fulfilled your potential and had every right to claim the rewards you’d earned. Few would have blamed it for looking to the years ahead as a time to enjoy a well-deserved rest. Had the snake possessed arms, days on the golf course or at shuffleboard could have seemed justification enough for its existence from now on. But the snake didn’t have arms, and it didn’t feel its life justified, in any case, by its current state. What ease its circumstances brought seemed more like a parody of earlier aspirations than their attainment. How often had it settled for a nearer goal when the distant one appeared just a bit too demanding? Or accepted less when more was already in sight? The faded skins laid end to end behind it were like a reproach that trailed away into the haze of a lost world. And yet that world mocked the snake with an insistence its present one could not protect it from. Had it really grown more substantial over the years, or simply fatter and less supple? Haunted by the suspicion the second possibility might be closer to the truth, the snake debated what to do through several more sloughings before deciding it was now or never to show it still valued what had once inspired its younger self. Simply to coil up in the deadening certainties of age—this couldn’t be the end for which it had been born. Pulling the most recently abandoned skin back on was unpleasant enough, with the number of scales damaged or torn off in the struggle, but those injuries were nothing compared with what must be suffered with each new effort to push back the years. Not to mention having to endure the snide comments of acquaintances, from under-the-breath queries about its mental health to more pointed insinuations that it act its age and not make a foolish spectacle of itself. Still the snake persevered, driven now as much by an anxiety to escape the wish by others that it share the stiffening of their own spirits as by its determination to find again that age when the future looked both fresh and everlasting. Reliving each decision where slithering compromise or retreat had seemed the best course, attempting to recoup all that had been lost in those moments of failed nerve, the snake held out hope the next skin back would be the one to restore faith in itself. But that never happened. The pain of the attempt only grew sharper the more the snake strained to recover its earlier confidence. So much so that after a few skins there was no room left for the joys it longed to feel again or the courage it regretted giving up. Experiences it would never have, challenges it would never overcome, discoveries never made, acquaintances missed, conversations not begun, thoughts let die—at a certain point the snake realized it was never going to recover the vision it had once held of itself when the world looked no larger than the reach of its imagination nor beyond its mastery. When the snake came to that recognition, it wondered whether it had in fact been a fool in thinking the years could ever be reclaimed once they’d been shed. Once you’d grown out of them or decided it was inevitable to do so, what lay ahead but a slow crawl farther and farther away from who you once thought you were? Chafing all the while at the skin you found yourself condemned to.
Copyright © 2008 by Geoffrey Grosshans