This weekend I was at a picnic in a big park. At a certain point, one person, R, began acting strangely, and got all of our attention. She was holding her pant leg and sort of hopping around. “There’s some kind of bug in my pants!” she said. She was clearly trying to hold the bug in her hand and away from her leg. We all realized at the same time that she was trying to get her pants off. There must have been 15 people there.
My heart rate went up as I thought back to the time when my X held my shirt with a bee caught in it (with me in the shirt) until he could pull the car over (yes, he caught it and held it while driving) and we could get out of the car. I can’t quite remember how we even got out of the car, but we did, and the bee was released to the air without stinging either one of us or being squished!
After the first 30 seconds or so, R said, rather calmly, “I think it might be a snake.” This galvanized people to move around, but not very far. More like we started milling around. Several people asked her if they could help. One person actually reached in and tried to help her get the pants off (guess who that was?). One person walked away calmly, only to return after the excitement was over.
Once she got her pants off and moved away from them, two people held them up and shook them out – and we discovered a kind of stick/plant stem clinging to the inside of her pant leg. I’ll let you all imagine the hilarity that ensued. Then I noticed the back of R’s leg, which was bleeding. A closer inspection of the stick revealed thorns and explained the pinching, biting sensation that alarmed her in the first place.
For the rest of the afternoon, people went around stomping on sticks, protecting R from dangerous twigs and generally joking about how much she wanted to take her pants off. Laughing was part of our recovery. We laughed when it was over to affirm that she was ok, that we were ok, that we survived. She laughed too. She may never live it down.
I laughed with everyone else, but I have to admit, in the back of my mind I was thinking about how trauma can do this very thing to us – make something that’s irritating and bothersome seem like it might be life-threatening. And in the moment, how each of us might react, as the person with something in our pants or as one of the bystanders. Any snakes in your life today?