Let’s start with the tragic denouement: the sudden death of David, my high school best friend, on April 18, 2011. I found out the following evening via Facebook, and proceeded to sob and rage over the next four days. This coincided with my planned extrication from the farm house I had shared with my ex to a city apartment I would share with a stranger. On my final day of box-heaving and car-packing, I was exhausted and numb with mourning. Running in to make a final sweep for odds and ends, I almost stepped on a copperhead snake with a toad lodged sideways in its mouth. I sucked in a shallow breath and felt my whole body go cold. The ambient noise of birds and insects in the forest at the yard’s edge was gone. The snake, toad, and I were suspended in time, and I knew my role: to patiently bear witness.
I squatted on the driveway, hugging my knees around the deep rasp of my breath. I remembered squealing like a toddler when I found the toad under the boot brush a few weeks prior. It had reminded me of the only gift I still have from David: a pair of hand-sculpted toads nestled in a shop rag in a box in my parents’ attic. At first, the slow motion sound of the snake’s teeth releasing and re-puncturing the toad’s leathery skin was sickening; but soon it became…comforting. I realized I was meditating. And softly crying. Mother Nature had engaged me with this simple example of energy transformation to help me find perspective within the complexities of my human grief. My feet started to go numb and my hips ached. With toad legs protruding from her open mouth and a bulge in her throat, the snake looked just as uncomfortable.
I don’t know how long I watched that poor toad being devoured, but I knew when our moment had passed. The copperhead had snuggled herself against the cinder blocks of the house in digestion, her tail end resting up the mailbox post. She flicked her tongue, and mostly ignored me as I slowly stood up, and let sensation re-enter my feet. I stepped over the small spots of blood on the concrete and ascended the stairs. In my sad and tired mind, the death of the toad formed a sacred triangle with the end of my relationship and the death of my friend. My grief was now complete. When I came back down the stairs to my car, the snake had gone; and with her, some of the heaviness in my heart.