The Snake, St. Francis, and Me
Editor’s Note: Overseas Lay Missioner Rhonda Eckerman shares a story about finding a snake outside her home on the U.S.-Mexico border and how she embraced her inner St. Francis.
During FMS Formation back in the Fall of 2020, when I lived with 14 other Franciscan volunteers at Casa San Salvador, we adopted the acronym WWSFD (What Would St. Francis Do). My close friend Joleen Johnson even wrote one of her first blogs about it and I made a promise to her that I would also write about WWSFD not knowing at the time that it would just about write itself.
One hot Arizona evening, I was sitting at my computer not doing much of anything. I had the living room dark with the windows wide open so that I can catch the occasional breeze that comes across the desert. Suddenly, I heard a very loud rustling in the peach tree just outside my living room window. I grabbed my flashlight and scanned the tree. There, on one of the branches, was a large pink snake. Now, I can hear you all saying, “EWW!!” but please don’t quit reading.
My first thought was to do whatever it takes to ensure that she stays outside (yes, I decided it was a female without actually knowing). I immediately texted my neighbor who is well experienced in all things Arizona, and I asked her about my options. She encouraged me to talk to my visitor and convey my request for privacy. That just made me laugh, and despite recently finishing Murray Bodo’s wonderful book entitled Francis: The Journey and the Dream, I did not do this. I was not inspired like St. Francis to communicate with nature, to call things in creation my sister or brother. It just felt silly. Instead I went to bed, slightly ashamed as I was so sure St. Francis would have talked to this beautiful snake.
Waking up the next day earlier than normal, I went to check on my visitor. I was relieved to find her still in the tree and not curled up in my living room. I sat next to the window and had my breakfast, marveling at this curious creature who was eyeing my food. I was convinced that by the time I got back from church, she would move on. But, alas, she was still in the same position on the branches hours later. Periodically she would shake the branch, and I thought she was trying to shake off peaches. But on a closer look, I realized that this snake was caught in the peach tree, wrapped up in all the nylon netting put there to protect the peaches from the birds.
So after many minutes of contemplation and so many deep breaths for courage, I decided to attempt a rescue. Despite the near 100° afternoon, I covered myself from head to toe with winter clothes (hoodie tied tightly around my face, sweats, socks, mittens, and hiking shoes). With scissors and a small ladder, I did what St. Francis would do and began to cut around the entangled pink body while talking to her. I told her it was going to be okay; I was not going to hurt her. The snake would shake periodically trying to get herself free. There was a great deal of netting, and I must have been out there for over an hour, when I realized the snake was no longer shaking and did not seem to have much life.
Reluctantly, I went inside, very sad as I stared at her lifeless body. But the story does not end there. Minutes later the snake gave one more very weak shake, convincing me to try one more time. I put on all my protective gear again and climbed back up into the tree. This is what St. Francis taught me; this is what he would have done. And after two or three more snips, she gave a serious shake, fell to the ground and slithered away. I felt incredibly relieved and happy . . . good-bye, sister snake.