I have this thing about worms on the sidewalk after a rain. See, I have to save them. All of them. I pick them up and toss them back onto wet earth somewhere, next to a tree, under the bushes in somebody’s yard. I tell myself this means I have “saved” them from wriggling on the sidewalk, having to crawl their way back to a muddy spot, and possibly getting stepped on or baked in the sun.
One night, after a day in which I’d been out saving worms on my walk, I had a dream. I was on my walk, iPod clicking away, and I saw a worm near my shoe. So I picked it up and tossed it into the mud. A little ways up, I saw another worm. Picked it up, tossed it. Two squares of sidewalk up, more worms. Picked them all up, one by one, etc.
Except the thing was, as I glanced further up the sidewalk and saw the sun glinting off the cement, there were hundreds, maybe thousands of worms, writhing, waiting to be saved. By me. It was like that moment in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy and Marion see a snake, then shine a flashlight around them and realize they are surrounded by said-snake times about a million.
So I wanted to save all these worms, and I started to scoop them up by the handful and throw them onto wet earth. But there were too many of them. The further along the sidewalk I got, the more worms there were. Piles of worms, half as tall as I am, rose up and toppled over; I waded through them, wishing I were wearing rubber hip-boots.
So I had to stop. I stood with my head to the sky, my hands in my hair, and had one of those movie moments (except it was a dream moment) where the person yells, “Whhhhyyyy???”
My dream pointed me to one of the recurring themes in my life: It’s All Up to Me. (There is a sub-theme underneath this one which is something like, Nothing Should Suffer or Die, at Least Not on My Watch.)
The It’s All Up to Me theme has several purposes:
a) it allows me to hang on to the illusion that I have control where I really don’t;
b) in focusing on those areas in which I really have no, or little, control, I excuse myself from focusing on the areas where I actually do have control (i.e., writing this blog post, which I have procrastinated on finishing for two weeks);
c) it reinforces the idea that if I just try hard enough, and if I do everything “right”, I will be granted the gift of certainty in life. (I have never, ever been granted this gift, but I still catch myself working very, very hard for it.)
There’s another purpose to the It’s All Up to Me theme, too: if I buy into it, then I don’t have to ask for help. And I don’t like to ask for help. I’d really rather not. It’s much more comfortable for me to believe I am so powerful, so resourceful, so independent, that I can do it all on my own. But this isn’t true, and deep down I know it.
So for now, I am just noticing. I will likely pick up worms from the sidewalk the next time I’m out walking after a rain. I will probably believe that I am saving them, and it will probably even feel good. But I’ll just try to notice when I cross over into that place of “I’ve got to save them all! It’s all up to me!” I’ll remind myself that it’s really okay — really — if I just pick up two or three worms from the sidewalk and set them gently in the muddy grass. There might even be other kind-hearted souls out walking who notice the worms on the sidewalk. I don’t have to save them all myself.