Can You Hear a Snail?


The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey is a profound and lovely book that shows how rich being alive can be no matter how “confined” we appear. Written by a woman dramatically bedridden (sitting up to travel to medical appointments, her only outings, is not possible) by the onset of an unknown disorder. This young and vibrant woman accepts her life lying down where just changing position is a big adventure. Rather than resist, she embraces her reality and builds a full world. A wild snail, brought home from a visitor’s walk in the woods she can no longer visit, is given a small perch on her nightstand. The snail’s world, vast to it, becomes her portal to stimulation and engagement.



The other week I attempted an honest response to how my summer has been. A summer of loss, I named it. I wrote in rebellion to an acquaintance having described my status (to me) as “Great!” I wrote that update while equally loving the summer of 2014. I regret my inability to capture how times can be both grim and wondrous – one truth need not cancel the other. Acceptance is the bridge. Increasingly I believe that balance is a core purpose of life. Joy despite sadness.FINALScreen_Saver_ETB_5_copy-300x168

This morning I found out that my cancer seems to be breaking through treatment. I grieve. I handle logistics for my next journey to treatment on Monday. I prepare for a more intense period while feeling wonder at entering a phase more intense than the now. The dog and I walk through the woods and find enough comfort to know it is all just fine. I am not okay with my reality but  I can accept that it is my reality.

Excerpt from Chapter 2: Discovery

“Each evening the snail awoke and with astonishing poise moved gracefully to the rim of the pot and peered over, surveying the strange country that lay ahead. Pondering its circumstance with a regal air, as if from the turret of a castle, it waved its tentacles first this way and then that, as though responding to a distant melody.”

About marcy westerling

I am a long time community organizer with a passion for justice and founded the Rural Organizing Project in 1992. Derailed by a Stage IV Ovarian Cancer diagnosis in spring 2010, I have stayed in treatment since then. I am learning how to embrace livingly dying and hope that by starting a Phase One immunology clinical trial at UPenn in spring of 2013 I will have more time to find the sweet spots of thriving while terminally ill.

29 responses »

  1. I grieve too. I hold in my mind that image of you and your dog walking in the woods. It is a powerful thing, the company and love of a dog.

    I love you. I am thinking of you.


  2. Marcy,
    Sorry to read your latest post. I was so hoping it would work for you and I was hoping a cure would come for all of us. I will be praying for you and please keep us posted. Fran

  3. Oh, I love you and your writing, and that book and that snail. I’m so sorry to hear about the cancer breakthrough. Gah! Is balance one of the distant melodies? Or is it near by? XOXO

  4. I can’t help but think of you, as I hold the hand of our mutual friend, whose journey here is nearing completion. Sending you arm loads of love and peace.

  5. Marcy, your posts continue to be the life-blood for me –one who is still fighting this disease for almost 19 years. We are only here for a blink of an eye and getting the most out of life is our choice. I have and you have. You have also inspired me with your smile, humor and strength by blogging your journey through so many difficulties. You have taught me about persistence, negotiating with doctors for proper treatment and that too has been very valuable.

    Now, you have little else to do even though your “mind still runs like a bloodhound” you can be like the bed-ridden woman and take the smallest things in life and make new discoveries. You are loved and have given us a permanent gift of your astute writing.

    As a librarian with a plethora of books, I love this book ‘The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating’ and thank you for passing it on. Maybe it’s time for us to find a wild snail, slow down and enjoy its simple life.

  6. Oh Marcy, I grieve for you too. So many changes coming so quickly into your life.

    I wrote to yet another friend with cancer about the process of stripping from identity to essence, from who we thought we were to our essential beings.

    As you and this author explore, even when we lose so much of what we did and enjoy, presence is still possible…even if it’s presence with suffering, grief.

    I too am facing more progression and feel ground down by the whole process – like wheat between grindstones. There goes more chaff than I ever knew possible. Here is my heart tender and exposed, light and liable to float away in the next breeze.

    Marcy, knowing you only online, I’ve come to love you and your unique, essential being. Thank you for sharing you with me, with us.

    I treasure you!

    much love, Stephanie

    • I love how you describe the grinding down. I have been seeking better words than tired which could be solved, theoretically, by resting. How much chaff we let fly until it is too much. I get great solace being on this path with sisters like you.


  7. Marcy, I love your posts and how you share your journey so openly and honestly. Sorry to hear that you need to shift gears again. You are amazing.

    Thinking of you with much love.

  8. Hi Marcy,
    Thank you for the book recommendation. I would like to read it. I vacillate between being able to
    find that wonder in small bits of life, and being so tired that I am missing complete days. I am working on my mindfulness and being present in each day. I am not in pain, just nauseous and tired and so I focus on the fact that I could be in great pain, or not be able to breathe well. Small things,
    but so big when I realize that I am lucky to be able to breathe and walk around even if I am so tired and feeling so gross in my stomach.

    Though I also only know you through your tremendously honest and helpful blog, I wrap my weary
    arms around you, and walk with you through your next steps. Nobody can push us to feel great,
    or to be anything we aren’t at any moment. I think what we can do as friends is to walk side by side.

    Thank you for forging the path for so many women, and for me.
    Sending out healing prayers to you.
    ~ Liz Schwarz


  10. Your honesty creates such intimacy and opens a door to appreciating life in its fullness that includes finding the balance between the letting go , the grief and the joy that can come in a slow and tiny size, and the acceptance of what is. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s