Every now and then there is a suspended moment when I am faced with a choice: yes or no. I have begun to relish the moment of saying yes, of being open to the experience. And if I decide to say no, that is all right too.
When I need a little bit of courage, I can call upon a secret weapon, an ace in the hole, or rather a snake up my sleeve.
Somewhere deep in my cells I have the strength of a cobra, and I can use this during those times when I hesitate to enter a roomful of people, when I have to take that step off a cliff, when I am scared to do something on my own. I know that at that moment I have to say “chok de” and throw it back.
What is beyond that one second of choice is just about never as bad as I thought it would be. It’s usually not bad at all. And sometimes it’s actually good.
Unless it’s snake whiskey. Then it’s still pretty bad.
A few years ago, my family and I crossed the muddy Mekong River in a little boat, got within a stone’s throw of Burma, and landed on the dusty shore of Laos. A ramshackle market stood before us; a few children begged out front.
The oppressive heat prodded us to enter the one clean and bright shop, clearly set up for any tourists who journeyed over from Thailand. Upon entering the shop, long rows of opium pipes made me nervous. Tables of gaudy souvenir tee shirts, postcards, and hats were easy to ignore.
The open vats of whiskey, each filled with a poor preserved creature, intrigued me. A pangolin floated on the top of one vat, while scorpions filled another.
My guide explained that the animal’s spirit infuses the drink and becomes a part of the drinker. I knew which one I needed the most: the strength of a cobra.
Using a wooden ladle, my guide poured a shot into little glasses for my husband and me. I peered into mine, trying not to notice the scales floating in the cloudy liquid.
My husband and I exclaimed “chok de,” clinked our glasses for luck, and went bottoms up.
The snake whiskey, which was actually rice wine, tasted mild and smoky, with a bit of snaky funkiness. I had a bad stomach ache for half a day that was probably unrelated to the shot, or maybe it was the cobra worming its way into my being.
Now, when I am intimidated by that moment of saying yes or no, I remind myself that I have the strength of a cobra deep inside me. Not only that, but the snake whiskey treated rheumatism, lumbago, and “sweat of limbs” too.