Pick your speed and suffering poison: The Tortoise and the Hare revisited (Snake vs. Rabbit remix).
Perhaps someday if you play your cards correctly, you too will discover yourself standing in front of a room in a southern church filled with astonished children as an anxious boa constrictor knits itself tightly around your arm.
I’ll get to the running thing in a sec – first, let me catch you up.
It was a brilliant sunny day in Georgia.
As had been the case every Friday that year, I was volunteering at the zoo. Due to my all-star status, I was responsible for commandeering the Zoo Mobile and dazzling yoots far and wide with my vast arsenal of educational zoo creatures.
Well, three of them anyway.
First up was the prehensile-tailed skink.
A prehensile-tailed skink is a type of lizard. That’s really all you need to know about prehensile-tailed skinks. That and the fact that they are not to be confused with prehensile-tailed skanks.
Next up after the skink was the boa constrictor.
I brought out the snake and dutifully gave my snake spiel. After this, it was time for the snake to go back inside its container. As I made to put it away, the snake started giving my arm a… hug.
As I increased my efforts to return the snake to the cooler, the hug turned into a squeeze. The squeeze turned into full on constriction. I watched idly as my fingers turned a disturbing shade of mauve.
I played it cool.
I told the children that the snake liked them so much, it didn’t want to go away.
I did a little soft shoe and told them a few more stories and snake facts.
I answered more questions, hoping that in the meantime, the snake would relax and I could throw it back into the cooler.
But gradually the children – far more astute than the adults – figured out the reason that I wasn’t putting the snake away yet.
“That snake is constricting you!” a child yelled, clearly pleased with his masterful command of multisyllabic words.
“Yes,” I admitted, impressed. Not many five-year-olds know what that word means. Plus, this bought me a bit more time, as I could now explain to the children what constriction meant.
As I described what was happening to my arm and why, one blond and architecturally-coiffed female teacher let out a soft scream. The rest of the teachers scuttled to the back of the room in a flurry of Oh my word’s and Bless your heart’s, as if the six foot snake wrapped around my arm were capable of suddenly morphing into Inspector Gadget and reaching out to include them in my constrictional suffering.
Another child made a great commotion in raising his hand and begging to be chosen, promising me that he had a great question. All of his peers looked at him expectantly.
“Why don’t snakes have legs?” He asked. Fifty charming bright-eyed little faces turned back toward me.
“Ah,” I began, feeling my arm go prickly from blood deprivation and paging through my mental catalogue for any half-truth that might sound like a reasonable response, “to answer that question we’d have to go back millions of years,” – the teachers’ eyes flashed collectively at this pronouncement – “and think about evolutio—“
“Snakes don’t have legs because God made them that way, sweetheart!” The blond teacher interjected shrilly, plying me with a tacit reminder that I was presenting in a church.
I smiled apologetically.
The snake gave me an extra congratulatory squeeze, as if to say, Nice going, asshat. Evolution in church.
Another child yelled out hysterically without being called on,
“Is that snake Satan and that’s why it’s squeezing you?”
Fifty awe-filled and open-mouthed faces again turned back to mine for the answer, fearful and utterly dazzled by the possibility that I held Satan in my arms.
Even the teachers looked on breathlessly in anticipation.
I seriously weighed the pandemonium-provoking entertainment value in saying, “Yes, the Devil is among us,” but before I could act on it, Satan the serpent conveniently chose that moment to loosen his grip. I carefully slipped the snake back into the container before it could change its mind, and sighed with relief as the blood surged back into my right arm. The teachers, sensing that the danger was over, skulked timidly back to their chairs.
Ignoring that last question, I told the children that it was time to meet their third and final animal of the day.
This third animal was, in my opinion, the scariest, cruelest, and most nauseatingly intimidating mongrel of the lot. A vicious and merciless creature.
(Not just any rabbit, mind you. This particular rabbit is one part fur, three parts demon. A 1:3 fur-to-demon ratio, for the math whizzes out there. He is also alarmingly large for a rabbit — surely some kind of Lagomorphan sumo wrestler, if I must be honest.)
And so, steeping in dread, I gritted my teeth as I prepared to extract my foe from his crate.
The rabbit’s eyes flickered with familiar hostility as I advanced.
I opened the door.
He might have growled and snarled.
I hesitated, and then–
You see, these things must be done quickly and with assertiveness, so I clamped my hands over the rabbit’s back and held on as tightly as I could, willing myself with all my strength to rip him out. He pumped his legs and fought me aggressively, biting my fingers, leaping into the back wall of his crate, and voiding his bowels with most belligerent authority.
The class looked on with rapt attention as I fought to remove him. The entire process took an achingly long time. Fine, maybe the entire ordeal lasted only a minute, but I promise you it was a terrifying and mortifying one.
As the rabbit and I struggled for the upper hand, I became sweaty and jittery, my heart rate racing, my fingers aching and stinging from vicious sumo rabbit bites layered on top of my still-recovering boa constricted arm.
As we battled, gigantic clods of nervous rabbit fur drifted out of the cage and alit lazily on the air…
After an exhausting and valiant effort, I proclaimed myself the victor, emerging from behind the cage with my shirt plastered in rabbit fur, my browline glistening with anxious sweat, my hair standing up at odd angles, the seething rabbit now secure in my arms. The children cheered.
(I should note that at this point, the blond lady began having an allergic reaction to all the rabbit fur dancing in the air and so had to excuse herself from the room. Pity.)
The rest of the presentation proceeded without any event. The children each got to pet the rabbit. We laughed about the snake debacle. I returned an immensely pissed off rabbit to his crate. Then, exhausted, I packed up the Zoo Mobile and drove back to the zoo.
And now for the metaphor.
You might wonder which animal was harder to deal with that day. Which one was more frightening, intense, intimidating or unsavory.
The boa constrictor?
Obviously, they were both challenging.
The boa constrictor is far more intimidating than the rabbit in theory. The snake presented me with a long, slow squeeze, one that I hardly noticed initially. It was tolerable at first and then less so as I became increasingly convinced that I might endure actual limb death. Being constricted by a large snake is like tackling a marathon, or maybe even a half-marathon or any longer race distance. Both marathons and boa constrictors are frightening and glorified in their histories and hype, and the pain comes slowly – you’re almost unaware of the predicament you’ve gotten yourself into at first, and then gradually you realize how much you are hurting. You wonder how you got here and how you could have been so stupid. Then, if you’re unlucky, everything fades to black. That’s pretty much how my first marathon experience went. I felt great for most of it, and it wasn’t until it was too late to do anything about it that I realized the life was being slowly squeezed out of me.
That rabbit, by comparison, is a 5K. On paper, there’s nothing scary about a little ol’ rabbit. Similarly, the 5K is a banal, everyday, unexciting race distance… on paper. Nothing to worry about… on paper. Except that in practice… good gracious, it’s a 5K. Despite the familiarity of the distance, it’s breakneck fast, unexpectedly challenging and frightening and far more painful than you expected it might be, sort of like handling a mentally unbalanced rabbit.
So if you had to pick ONE right now — in the Zoo Mobile of race experiences, which animal do you pick? The boa constrictor – that slower, heavier pain over longer distances? Or the rabbit-like 5K or 3K with its quick, furious, acute pain? (That rabbit truly was a “cute” pain! Ba dm chhhh.)
Now throw away the metaphor stuff: which of these two animals would you actually rather deal with?