When earthworms saved my life. A true story.

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.

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 losing my mind. Earthworms have it so great? 

It was time for some serious reevaluation.

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.

                    

Author

  • Karen DeBonis writes about motherhood, people-pleasing, and personal growth, the entangled mix told in her memoir "Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" forthcoming in spring 2023. Subscribe today to receive Chapter 1: A Reckoning.

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