Several years ago Candice was recovering from a severe concussion and was home bound for several months. During that time a friend gave her a small book, thinking she might relate to Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s story of isolated recovery from a mysterious illness. We had not thought about that gift for a long time until I went looking for a short read to pack on a recent trip. I happened upon Bailey’s The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating and was immediately captivated by this strange yet reassuring tale.
To summarize the book might lead friends to question your reading choices. Bailey – an active and curious woman of 34 – contracts a mysterious disease while vacationing in Europe and finds herself bedridden and unsure that she will live. A wild snail arrives in the bedroom where she is convalescing, brought in by a friend and placed in a pot of field violets. Over twelve months – and 178 pages – Bailey watches the snail explore its terrain, eat, sleep, eventually hatch 118 offspring, and return to the wild. The book is filled with fascinating snail biology (they can mate with themselves!) and links to more snail literature than I could ever have imagined existed.
More than a natural history of gastropods, however, this meditation focuses on the healing powers of connection. “Survival,” Elisabeth Tova Bailey writes, “often depends on a specific focus: a relationship, a belief, or a hope balanced on the edge of possibility.” In her case, the key to survival from her mysterious virus lay in the sound of a tiny mouth – with more than 2,600 teeth – munching. One of my favorite lines in this witty memoir relates:
“I found myself experiencing tooth envy toward my gastropod companion. It seemed far more sensible to belong to a species that had evolved natural tooth replacement than to belong to one that had developed the dental profession.”
To survive, Bailey reminds herself – like the snail – to “think not of the amount to be accomplished, the difficulties to be overcome, or the end to be attained, but set earnestly at the little task at your elbow, letting that be sufficient for the day.”
It strikes me – especially in these times – that connections do have the ability to heal and get us through to the place where we need to be. The work of preservation connects people to place and people to the stories of other people. Both are important. Throughout this thoughtful and marvelously written book, Bailey makes the case eloquently and simply that connecting helps us get to where we belong and where we can thrive. She quotes Edward O. Wilson from his Biophilia, noting that “The crucial first step to survival in all organisms is habitat selection. If you get to the right place, everything else is likely to be easier.”
Here’s to a good week of connections.
More to come…