Thursday, October 8, 2009

When the Sidewalk Ends

I was out taking a walk earlier this evening with our dog, Desmond -- our nightly ritual poop-patrol stroll. It had been lightly raining most of the evening and during our walk I could feel it gently descending upon my ponytail and trenchcoat. I noticed the same thing that I always notice when I am outside after it has been raining: worms. Oodles of worms were scattered across the sidewalks -- shimmying over cement to find new resting places after having had their previous ones flooded. I once wrote a poem that was inspired by this, titled "Earth Drowning." The prologue I wrote for it was this: "Worm corpses scatter across sidewalks / Like tenets evicted from earth-carved homes."

This phenomenon always saddens me. I have always, since I was very young, had an unusual infatuation with worms. I used to go worm-hunting at least once a week, turning over rocks in our backyard, especially near the garden, searching for my squishy, slimey treasures, with the hopes I would find, if not the entirety of a worm's body, at least the end of one sticking up above the surface of soil. Once found I would pick them up as gently as possible, allow them to roam around the contours of my small palm, and softly stroke them as if they were a family pet. Then I would lay them upon the same soil in which I found them and lower the rock upon them once more.

They probably didn't appreciate being disturbed but in my mind I was showing them affection. I wanted to hug them . . . but, how exactly does one hug a worm? When I see them roaming homeless after the rain I wonder if they have any emotions of fear, panic, or desperation. Sometimes I'll pick one up and lay it in the grass, hoping that I was helping, rather than harming it. Perhaps I recreated their original predicament, but I hate to see them struggle across the hardness of the pavement, afraid that they will get stuck and dry out. The sidewalk must seem very frightfully wide-open and vulnerable -- a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.

I am reminded of someone whom I care about. I shall refrain from using his name or giving any details for the sake of his privacy. He too is suffering from an earth drowning -- wandering and struggling, emotionally homeless, in the wide-open harshness of life's sidewalk. He has made many mistakes in his life, and is aware of most, if not all of them. He has immersed himself in unhealthy activities and environments, many of which are in his past, some however, in the present. He has associated himself with people that did nothing but enable bad habits; and he has searched to fill his emptiness with empty, temporary relief.

For awhile he began to pick up his broken pieces, his broken self, and assemble the beginnings of a purposeful life. Sadly, he had some hard knocks thrown at him and has so far not recuperated. And ever since he started to fade downward it seems as though more and more events have come along to weigh upon him like several feet of dirt, suffocating his spirit and drowning out his hope of something different. He wants something more. He wants a better life. But he is crippled with the belief that nothing will ever change and nothing ever should change because he doesn't deserve anything better.

I understand this thinking. I once (for a long time) was overwhelmed with these same beliefs. I may not have expressed my hopelessness and self-hatred in the same ways, but they are the same feelings at the core, the same root problem. When you feel as though you are not worthy of anything good in life you end up sabotaging yourself. You paralyze yourself into living out the same lifeless, dead-end day over and over. I've been there. I hated myself more than I could ever express. I had such self-disgust that, in a way, I was content to feel miserable continuously. But then something happened . . . staying the same became too painful. There is a quote that goes, "You will remain the same until the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of change."

How true that is. It was true for me. It wasn't until it hurt too much to stay the same that I finally began making real changes in my life. Sometimes it takes a long time to get to that point. I thought my journey there was quite long, but there are so many others that have been and will be on that path far longer than what I can imagine. He is one in that category. I don't know how long it will take him to reach his point of exasperation. I pray that it will be sooner than later.

My heart feels heavy for him and his slow, staggering slide across the pavement. Every movement is pained. Just as long as he is moving . . . I don't want him to give up and allow his spirit to get stuck and shrivel up before he reaches the soil again -- soil that gives life and richness and nourishment. The sidewalk is a lonely place, but it is only temporary. There may be times when we are tossed out of our comfort zones, our known surroundings, or our planned paths, but we can find our way again to home. We can weather the struggles and the pain, with the hope of a new sanctuary.

I don't know how many of the evicted worms I see that survive the brutal flooding -- how many that survive the wait and make a new home on the other side of the sidewalk. Statistics are most likely grim. But I find peace and comfort in the thought that just maybe, there is someone out there watching, ready to pick me up and gently place me in a new bed of grass.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Emily. I hope your friend finds his way home.