Reposted with permission by radioroxanne.
Saturday, 12 April, 2008
Spring is back—Happens once a year for a few months. It means my nieces and I can start going out for walks again. Most every Friday I go to my mom’s for dinner. Truthfully, I go mostly to see my nieces and because usually, by Friday night, my day job, which is manual labor, has kicked my butt by Friday, there are only two reasons I tolerate my family that night. One is because they forgive that I’m so tired that all I’m capable of is being propped up and having food shoveled into me… But the second reason contradicts that, and that reason is that my nieces make sure I’m capable of more, like walking and dancing and playing at the playground and answering very good questions. While I was spring-cleaning my scraps of notes recently, I re-found this story from last year…
~A Year Ago This Spring~
We were walking back to my mom’s from the playground—me, Hannah (five at the time), and Allison (eleven at the time)… I saw a dead, dried worm on the sidewalk. They were close behind, so I figured it was a teachable moment, since it was just a week or so prior that we had a close encounter with live worms… I said, “Hey—Look at that, you guys” They asked me what it was and I told them it was a worm-fry—A worm that got fried by the sun.
Death, for the five yr old, was (…is still, I think…) a fascinating injustice. She was instantaneously saddened and just as immediately, called for a funeral. And just as quickly, had the curled up carcass in the palm of her hand. We were instructed by Hannah-the-Master-of-Ceremonies to close our eyes to pray. “Goodbye, Wormy. I wish you couldn’t die… I’ll miss you. Goodbye—You can go to heaven now…” Then she told me and her sister that we could say something, too. Allison said, “Goodbye worm.” I thanked the worm for doing its worm things. Then I peeked at the scene—Hannah cupping the worm in one bare hand, the other hand cupping the worm-holding hand; Allison peeking at me peeking. And then, after one final goodbye, Hannah, peeking at the location of the coil in the palm of her hand…
~The Things I Thought on the Way to the Thing I Said~
Several things happened in rapid succession, but it will take a few paragraphs to tell it…
First I caught my breath. Then, feeling my heart skip a beat, I crouched down to face her directly, “Hannah!” There we stood, me at forty-three at the time, practically on my knees, facing down a five year old on her own two feet, my face flushed with confusion and concern, her face frozen in bewildered concern for me, as she said, “What?!”
I’ve done a few things in my life—gut wrenching encounters with the fecal, dizzying dances of danger with the profane… I’ve played with dog poop and even used it as ammunition; made – and tried to eat—mud pies; kissed a few frogs (I’m not being metaphorical—frogs were some of my favorite playmates when I was twelve yrs and younger)… But—I – Have – Never – Kissed – a – Worm—Dead – or— Alive…
In this moment, I was thinking a million things, none of which I wanted to say because I didn’t want to spoil the ceremony. One thought was that I could hear the voice of her mother (my sister) churning through the soils of time back to my mom, scolding “Don’t kiss worms!”—But I only wanted to know “Why not???” If I said this to Hannah, I knew she would want to know, why not, and would probably ask. She knew me enough to know I’d want to answer her. I had no answer, so I desperately tried to think of what to say…
All I could think of as an answer to why not kiss a worm, was “shit”. And “shit”, even the word “crap”, is not a word these girls are comfortable with. But shit was the only true thing I could think of: Shit eaten, shit shitted, shit giveth and taketh—This is the habitat of the worm, and kissing a worm is grassroots shit-kissing…
I mentioned here I didn’t want to spoil the ceremony. That’s the other thought I was having: I was profoundly moved by my five year old niece’s reverence for the worm. I felt pride in the presence of her unbridled exuberance, seamlessly expressed from playground to ceremonial pavement… All I wanted to say to her humble gesture of farewell to the worm was: fully, unequivocally, adoringly, YES!
I thought about the meaning of a worm’s life – http://www.springerlink.com/content/lu75qx4177271563/– most of which I could not possibly articulate in a funereal context and certainly not to a five and eleven yr old; thought about what I’d heard on this hour of this show by David Suzuki http://www.radio4all.net/proginfo.php?id=10480, (in episode ONE, which talks about the ecology of worms and other soil dwelling creatures); thought about the frightening loss of soil on the earth everywhere http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/01/22/6548/, the lowly worm’s heavenly and lovely home; thought about how important it is that this five year old loved the worm enough to kiss it goodbye…
And then I blew it.
Because it’s only for so long that a sentence broken by one’s breath-caught-in-the-throat can be suspended in mid-air like it was for that six paragraph reflection on what to say to a five year old who kissed a worm. In less than six seconds, the five year old, having said, “What?!” in the face of my astonishment, again implored, “What?!”
“It’s not a good idea to kiss worms, honey…”
“Why not?” she echoed my own thoughts, as I predicted.
I blinked, glancing at the glint in the eye of the eleven year old, whose smirk belied her pleasure in seeing her forty-three year old aunt squirm, as if in the palm of her hands, “Because of germs Hannah”, she flatly stated, never taking her eyes off of me…
When the five year old asked what kind of germs. I told her I didn’t know, but that it’s just better to know what is and isn’t being put so close to our mouths.
This was a teachable moment with a reckoning.
Trying to recover the sacred frame I had shattered with my oh-so-overly-civilized ways, I thanked Hannah for praying for the worm, and told her to put it back on the grass when she was done, thinking all the time about the oxymoronic dynamic to putting a once shit-making and therefore life-giving, now-dead and returning-to-the-earth (and therefore life-giving-again), but earth-covered in toxic-worm-killing grass.
~Spring Rains A Week Earlier~
It was later that night, on my own way home, that I came up with the words I should have said to a five year old in the thick of worm-kisses. I remembered another worm encounter from just a week or so before the worm kiss…
The three of us had walked following a spring rain. I paused to pick up a worm and place it on the grass, and when I did, heard, “Eeew! Why’d you touch that worm?” I told them I was just trying to help it get to the other side of the sidewalk… And I told them there’s nothing to “Eeew” about—That worms are cool. I found another worm and to my delight, they both got to hold a worm in their bare hands, for the first time. As I watched them respond to the moisture, the warm, the soft, the swirl of the worm-in-their-hands, I remembered my own erotic encounters of the first kind with worms, hoping this would provide a similar imprint on the s banks of their suburban-fractured earth memories…
After some small explanation, we agreed the worms belonged back in the soil, under the grass. Walking home, they wanted to know all about why the worm came onto the sidewalk (because it rained), why I moved it to the grass (because it belongs in the earth under the grass), and then why it would die if it wasn’t returned to the grass, and then why it would bother to climb onto the cement sidewalk if it threatened its own life.
While this circular conversation rolled on, with the eleven year old getting bored, and the five year old persisting, I thought about the word “because.” Because is not a word a five year old can embrace. Because is an abrasion on the mind of a five year old. No matter how many answers to a question one can give to a five year old, ‘because” is only an intrusion on the essence of existence, just as the cement is a slicing into the existence of the worms. She wanted no because. She wanted a why. And what I thought about was also the worm, crawling along the sidewalk, flesh on sandpaper, mucous membrane abraded by civilization’s carving and christing on the criss-crossing of cement everywhere. I wanted to answer the questions of the earthworm, and I had neither why nor because to give the five year old incessant and incessantly wise question of why an earthworm would leave its only home risking its only life to do it’s wormful work.
~A Leaf, Dying~
At this point I recalled a previous point in our walks, a week or so prior: When I found a leaf laced to near transparency. I love it when these leaves show up, on their way to re-absorption into the soil, ( –again with the help of worms–), so I enthusiastically showed it to the girls. They asked me why it had all those holes in it. I told them it was dying. Hannah protested, saying that no, it can’t die. “Death isn’t a problem” means nothing to a five year old. “Death is good”—“Death has to happen for life to thrive”—“Death is normal” – does not hold any water, rain, earth, fire, nor air for a five year old. No, this five year old instead ran ahead of me, talking over my every attempt to explain death and a dying leaf to her, saying, “No! I don’t want it to die! I want it to live! I want all things to live—I love all living things!!”, running ahead of me with every muscle in her body resisting “death as destroyer”, because she loved in the most passionate way she knew, without knowing the wisdom or pain of death. So, I said something else: I said, “Thank you Hannah, for loving all living things and caring so much that you want to protect them…”
~Where the Sidewalks Truly End~
And so, that is where my thoughts were, while the five year old continued, by my side, asking about the spring-rain-worms and why they left the soil and entered the treachery of the cement… I was thinking about the leaf-talk, and how there was nothing to do but make it clear to them both that the only thing that mattered was life, and the only reason for the destruction of it was no reason at all. So, I stopped in my tracks, which stopped them in their tracks, and I spun around on my heels, and crouched down: I said, “Listen: How old are you?” They said, respectively, “Eleven” and, “Five”. I said, “Do you know how old I am?” When they said they did not, I told them, “Forty three”. Then I said, “Okay, next to eleven or five, do you know how long forty-three is? I was being intense. They were staring at me. I showed them with my fingers how long eleven and five are. Then I showed them with my arms how long forty-three is, making sure my arms fanned wide open, to demonstrate it was longer even, than me…
Then I said, “See these sidewalks?” They nodded, still staring at me intently. I said, “How old do you think they are?” They shrugged. I said, “About One-hundred and fifty to two-hundred years old. That’s a lot longer than forty three, alright?!” They nodded. Then I said, “How old do you think the worms are?” (I was thinking in terms of life-on-the-planet-age…) They shrugged. I said, “Millions and millions of years old! Next to One-hundred and fifty to two-hundred years old, do you know how long that is? They shook their heads, eyes wide open. I did the small-fingers and arms-flung-open-wide thing again. Then I said, pointing, “These sidewalks do not belong here. They are in the way of the worms. They hurt them! The real question is not why would the worms get onto the sidewalks, but “Why are the sidewalks here if they hurt the worms?!!”
My nieces stared at me, blinked. The eleven year old’s jaw was ajar. The five year old said, “COOL.” I smiled at them, realizing that I got all intense, and that they were cool with that. We walked back to my mom’s, on the sidewalk, the same way we came…
~The Meaning of a Worm-Kiss~
The word origin of a kiss simply tells us of the sound of the word being the sound of a kiss. The word originates in the visceral experience of, the sound of, passion acted upon. A kiss is more than just a kiss when it comes from a place in a heart so connected to one’s beloved, in the case of a five year old, her world populated by living things alive and life-enhancing. So, what I should have said to my five year old niece who kissed a worm was the most rational thing to say: “Thank you, Hannah.” Thank you for loving the worm so much that you want it to hear the sound of your love in a kiss. The world will thrive in your embrace. The world needs your love.