Things We Save from Dying
By Z Zoccolante
I’ve walked up the white marble like steps probably 600 times and today is the first day I see them. Tiny gray segmented bodies upside down with a furl of lacey legs in the air. I reach down on the step and gently touch them with my finger as they curl their bodies into a gray bowling ball the size of a small pea.
Roly polys as my client called them. Pill bugs, scientific name, Armadillidiidae.
Why have I walked up these stairs over 600 times and only noticed them now?
It’s because of my client. She’d come into session with a heavy heart talking about how she sees death and dying everywhere. How just this morning she saw an animal on the side of the road and she agonized about not having time to stop because she’d be late. She told me stories of the many other road injured animals and critters that she’d been with for their last breath.
It broke her heart she said, to see things suffer. And she told me about the roly polys on the steps and how she picked them all up and put them back in the garden every single day. It unnerved her to see them there.
And I thought silently, where are the roly polys?
I remember tearing up when she told me about a traumatic experience of finding a squirrel hit on the road and how her friend and her rushed it to the vet the whole time she was holding it as it died. She sang to it thinking it might calm it. She was upset as she told me that it died.
I remember having a different experience of that story and I told her. How fortunate, I said for that squirrel to have met you and have you who loves and cares for it, to hold it and sing over it. To not be alone when it died because you were there.
My eyes teared as I shared this and she solemnly gazed at me. I never thought about it like that, she said.
That day I drove home thinking about her singing to the squirrel.
Later, when she moved to another level of care, I ascend the stairs and for the first time I see them. Their gray bodies and wispy legs. And I think of her. The horror and care and how she was so disturbed to see things suffer.
And I see the stairs and I count them. Six, spread out. And I wonder how I never saw them before, never took notice. But now I see them clearly.
And I touch their bodies and they roll into gray peas and I lift them into my hand, gather them, lean over into the garden and gently place them down into the dirt.
No one ever sees me do it and I think of the story of the starfish. It mattered to that one.
And I round the corner to the office, and she flashes in my head. And I think of how we always think of how we might change someone else’s life but I wonder if my clients ever think of how they change mine as well.
How they open my heart and show me a bigger world with scary things, sad things, interesting things. I think of how my heart has grown so big by being with people who show me themselves when they feel vulnerable or scared, when we are in their internal world together.
And I think of how they show me life a little differently and all the beauty that we can often take for granted. The purple flowers nearby that I stop and stare at in silence. The children’s books I’ve read with some of client’s younger parts.
They remind me that no matter how ugly things can be that there are beautiful things here, that little acts of kindness matter, and that people are brave.
I have a blue post it on my wall hanging in front of me as I write this. It says one sentence,
“The soul knows no fear”
And I think about the roly poly pill bugs and how they curl up to protect themselves, but when you let them back down on the dirt, where it’s safe, they unfurl their bodies and move on with life.
We all move on with life, when it’s safe to do so. And maybe there’s a helping hand when we’ve been flipped over and are flailing, or curled up into a hard circle shell. Maybe I will be more cognizant of the ways I close and open, and of the ways I show up for all things, even those that don’t have a voice.
The ones that I didn’t even used to see. Now, when I walk those stairs it has become my daily ritual to gently place them back in the dirt. To be aware of where I walk and to share the space with others there.
My client used to see suffering, but I see grace, strength, and ways I can be there simply by paying attention.