One Earthworm Suffers Unspeakable Torment In Act of Kindness Gone Awry
ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
“On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love.” –William Wordsworth, from Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey
My heart has been opened to such a degree that I found myself stooping beside a marooned earthworm flailing on a hot sidewalk and wishing to help it. With my new escalated sensitivity, I couldn’t bear to think of how quickly the laser beam Southern California sun would dry it up and leave it looking like one of those dark twisted duds you sometimes get in a package of McDonald’s fries.
Sometimes I blame these severe episodes of empathy on my past soy milk consumption producing extra estrogen in my bloodstream, consequently dredging up more sensitivity out of every situation. No matter what the cause, something has softened my heart considerably enough to extend my kindness to an invertebrate with no special status in society.
It was early morning when I politely stepped over the wiggling worm. I’d never seen such a lively one. But I knew his energy would run out soon. He’d be cooked alive. And the earthworm did not know in what direction to slide. Yet, salvation was near. There was cool green grass on either side.
I thought to myself, You’re really going to let that earthworm dry up in the sun? Think what little effort it would take to give it relief. I would burn less than one calorie.
Little did I know the worm was destined to die anyway.
Conveniently, I found a twig that I thought the worm would naturally wrap itself around, and then I could deposit both stick and creature into the grass and be done with it. Thankfully, because of the early hour, nobody was around. Someone may have been watching, from behind their window, a long-haired hillbilly type kneeling on the sidewalk and wielding a small branch outside their home, but I tried to ignore how it must have looked from afar.
The worm did not take to the stick. I gently tried to slide its knobby end beneath the creature, but I couldn’t without damaging its soft flesh. Come on, worm, I thought. But the worm was becoming suspicious. There are a lot of bad characters in Los Angeles, and the worm was right not to trust anybody so early in the morning. It went limp. Played dead.
Come on, you little bastard, I thought, just flip once again and I’ll work this stick beneath you and fling you out of this scorching, hardened desert. Then I’ll be gone. Call me an angel, call me God, however you want to justify this act of being saved, I don’t care. But let’s just get this over with.
Yet, the worm did not move. I became impatient. What if people were watching from their windows? How could they ever sleep soundly again knowing that at any moment a hillbilly would possibly squat and fiddle with unseen things on the sidewalk outside their homes? This is exactly the reason they didn’t live even a few feet closer to Hollywood.
Like some people can yank a tablecloth from a table without disturbing the dishes set atop, I too, in my zeal to save this little hardheaded worm, thought maybe, just maybe, if I slid the twig real fast, real smoothly, beneath the worm, it wouldn’t hurt it. Then I could drape the worm atop the blades of grass and move on with my life.
Instead, I nearly cut the worm in half. About half an inch below its clitellum. Grey ooze covered the end of the stick. I was holding a murder weapon. But earthworms can regenerate their lower halves, I’d read somewhere. So I’d set this worm back a few weeks. It was better than leaving him to die on the sidewalk. I tried to flick the worm into the grass. The trick was to avoid severing the flap of flesh that still held the worm intact.
One good fling and the worm would be to safety. I flicked my wrist just right so the stick would slide along the pavement and propel the worm into the lawn. Except I smeared the worm’s bottom half against the abrasive pavement.
Behind me there was a scream. Piercing. From the lungs of a young girl who held her daddy’s hand. Her other hand covered her mouth. She screamed again. They’d sneaked up on me, just in time to see the carnage I was unleashing on one of God’s lesser known, disregarded creatures.
The father’s eyes narrowed. He backed away, out of reach from me. He looked puzzled. I watched years of professional therapy reverse itself. I saw crumble the entire structure of his hard-earned belief that the world was a decent place, filled with mostly good people, despite a few bad ones causing almost all the trouble for the regular, good people who simply wanted to walk their children to school in the morning without incident.
I sensed the birth of his daughter had an effect on his outlook on life. He had to convince himself that most people, most of the time, were inherently upstanding, kind, and would do the right thing if they could. Otherwise he’d crawl into a corner and break down.
He glanced at the worm again, which was putting on quite the show now that it had an audience. It made a great deal out of flailing its good half, with its smeared latter half cemented to the sidewalk.
“That is,” the man said, pausing before he finished, “reprehensible.” His voice quivered. He wasn’t sure he should be confronting a human so soulless as to go out of his way to mangle an earthworm with a stick.
I felt there was no reasonable response expected from my end. But what about the worm? I thought. I can’t just leave him cut up, smeared, humiliated, and burning under the sun.
If we can find another stick, I managed to say, and pointed to the worm, maybe we can scoop him up.
“Jesus,” the man swore. He picked up his daughter and walked on the lawn around me. Her pink shoes bumped together at the end of her bouncing legs.
“Aren’t earthworms important, daddy?” the little girl asked. She tried to squirm in his arms to look back at me.
As I’ve written before, hillbillies are cut some slack in spiritual matters because of their base beginnings and their inability to understand lofty metaphysical concepts, but then again, a spiritual act is not always a complicated affair.
I’ve heard spiritualists say that if you give a thirsty dog a drink of water, that action is as recognized by the universe as worthy as carrying a child out of a burning building, or feeding a starving person crouched against the wall of a building downtown. It is the intention to help, to alleviate suffering, and it is those unremembered acts of genuine kindness that make the world go round.
As I walked home I consoled myself that my heart had been in a genuine place, despite the outcome. I’d left the earthworm stuck to the sidewalk. After the little girl and her father left, the stricken creature had settled down and played dead once again. It needed no more meddling from me.
I thought of the little girl, and how she would most likely never forget the unnameable, unspeakable action she witnessed that day in 2013, while innocently on her way to school, and she, along with her father who thought he’d left those dark days behind with an unshakable feel-good philosophy, would have to reconcile once again how such atrocious actions are committed in a world that, they like to think, is mostly good.
[photo by Iceclanl]