Last week, as I was taking a walk on a drizzly spring morning, I was attacked by earthworms. No, they didn’t mug me. And it wasn’t like a swarm of bees - they didn’t actually touch me. Well, maybe the soles of my sneakers, but I gingerly tried to avoid that.
No, I’m referring to the assault on my nose. The sidewalk was like opening day for earthworm little league and it stunk worse than a sweaty kid-crammed locker room. Eau de Earthworm. You won’t find it at Macy’s.
The odorous onslaught reminded me of my “earthworm story” that my sister has been begging me to tell, so here goes:
It was around 20 years ago. I was married with two rambunctious sons, a demanding full time job and an old house. I loved it all, but the all of it was starting not to love me back.
I was frequently losing my temper with my kids, quibbling with my husband, yearning for low-maintenance apartment life. Non-stop sinus infections, colds, headaches, digestive problems, and exhaustion plagued me. I felt like my body was on the fast track to destruction.
One spring day, I pulled up in the parking lot at the elementary school where I worked as a counselor. It was raining and the parking lot was a regular Eau de Earthworm convention. I tip-toed through the conventioneers, juggling my umbrella, purse, lunch bag and briefcase, with no third hand to hold my nose.
Out of the blue, or should I say “gray,” an unedited, spontaneous thought popped into my head:
“Earthworms have it so great.”
(I’ll pause for a moment because you’re probably reading that statement again to be sure you didn’t misread it. Spoiler alert: you didn’t.)
Now, what does one do when a thought like that bombards your consciousness?
Don’t look at me - I thought I was crazy. (Spoiler alert: I am, a little. In a good way, mostly.)
I witnessed putrid earthworms congregate on the chilly blacktop as they brazenly risked bald tires, low-heeled pumps and hungry robins. I knew if they survived, they’d wiggle back home to eat dirt and poop it out.
And I thought that was a good life? Well, it was time for some serious reevaluation, dontcha think?
That’s exactly what I did, after I got inside and examined my pupils to be sure nobody slipped some LSD into my morning coffee.
I took a good hard look at my life, at what would stay and what could give. The kids and the husband? Stay with a capital “S.” The old house halfway through rehab? Stay. We’d need to pay someone to take it off our blistered hands. That left my school counseling job. Which I loved. But the needy students and fractured families were slowing sucking me so dry that not even a monsoon could rehydrate me.
So, with a deep breath and a big gulp, at the end of the school year, I gave my notice and quit my job. As a family, we made some sacrifices, but we regained our equilibrium and I slowly regained my health. I believe it saved my life. And I owe to it earthworms.
Wisdom in this universe is everywhere, sometimes right under our feet.
"I am not a slimy beast,” the Earthworm said. “I am a useful and much loved creature. Ask any gardener you like.”
- James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.