I found the skin of a snake in my backyard last summer while I was crawling on my hands and knees pulling weeds. Sandwiched between stalks of crocosmia was an entire body case, white and transparent, stamped with tiny squares, like thin patterned tissue paper. Resting there whole, without the snake itself, I thought of the disciples finding Jesus’ grave clothes in the empty tomb. Where had he gone?
I’d seen the snake before, both of us startled the first time I rustled my way through plantings, serrated yellow trowel in hand, digging up the long roped roots of bindweed. I’ve never liked snakes. In addition to the bad rap from Genesis, a baby rattler bit my dog in our Santa Cruz Mountains backyard years ago and I spent thousands of dollars on antivenin to save him.
I knew this snake, a garter, wasn’t poisonous, and so I chose to greet it with friendly respect as I would a feral cat, remembering the words of the herpetologist I paid a thousand dollars to inspect our mountain property for more rattlesnakes: snakes are a sign of healthy ecosystem.
Snakes are also, as the mystics in my life tell me, a sign of transformation. So it seemed right and fitting—since I left California for Washington’s Puget Sound and discarded my former identities for new ones just forming—to welcome this skin skin and the snake, as signs of my own resurrection into a new life. I wonder if the snake felt the loss of its former self as I do, or if it’s simply a relief to shed a skin too tight to allow for growth and becoming. I know I felt cramped, fighting to fit inside the container I spent years constructing. Like the snake, my slip into new life wasn’t seamless. It was nothing compared to Jesus’ journey, his relinquishment of his very life to an existence beyond our imagination, but it required twisting and thrashing. You have to be a contortionist to escape yourself, to surrender your old identity and leave it behind.
There are moments when transformation feels like loss—I panic like the disciples wondering how I can go on. But I wonder if the past is ever really gone, or if we don’t gather up our old selves like the snake’s spent skins and stitch them together hoping for something familiar to clothe the new self, to keep us warm through winter and sane through old age. What we lack in craftsmanship we make up for in desire, so we parade in our patchwork flesh, hoping those threads will connect us to the Divine.
I wish I’d seen the snake that day, iridescent and incandescent, stretching boldly into its new skin. And oh, how I’d love to walk down the street dazzled by the sight of all-new Easter people walking tall, chests open, shining bright while our pasts are scattered like forgotten love notes, our shed skins and grave clothes fluttering high into the wind.