Such was the tragic fact of life I had to explain to three kindergarten girls last week at the daycare where I work when they confided to me, eyes large with the horror of it, that there were many dead worms on the sidewalk as they walked from school to our centre.
"The worms were dead..." one said.
"Were they dried up?" I asked, clearly not paying attention because B.C.'s constant drizzle had provided no opportunity for premature death by shrivelling that day.
"No..." she replied, cringing.
"THEY WERE SQUASHED!!" interjected a constantly squirming nearby grade one boy with abundant enthusiasm and minimal awareness of the sanctity of worm life clearly experienced by the girls.
"I think Emily did it," a particularly blunt little girl added, at which point the eyes of the Emily in question began to grow even rounder than usual as her bottom lip hung open and began to quiver.
I quickly began to explain the universal truth mentioned above, that worms are known to find themselves helplessly sprawled on the ground, where it is all too easy for an innocent rain boot to squish the very breath out of them completely by accident. It is no one's fault; it is simply the way this world works.
While my explanation may have to some extent appeased the guilt of Emily, I am not convinced that it eliminated all of the horror that the image of this elephant's-grave-yard of worm carcasses scattered along the sidewalk evidently evoked. And I cannot help but think that these kindergarteners may have done something godly that day as they recognized the uniqueness of those worms, and the tragedy of their lives lost.
In a lecture today a professor mentioned that one characteristic of Romanticism is a certain attention to particularity. Rather than categorizing worms and thinking of them as statistical casualties, each worm has uniqueness. And my reduction of the tragedy of worm death to a fact of life betrays an ignorance of the particularity of the individual worm (that may or may not have been) squashed by Emily's rain boots.
I suspect that Robert Farrar Capon is likely influenced by the Romantics when he defends paying attention in The Supper of the Lamb by saying that "Man's real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not made in God's image for nothing."
These days as I walk down the sidewalks with head bent and shoulders hunched in futile attempt to hide from rain and cold, I am seeking to look at and love the particularities. It is easy to generalize February as a mass of grey, but perhaps I need to pay more attention to the particular shades of grey that weave among the falling raindrops. And ever-increasingly as spring grows nearer, I begin to see the unique bits and pieces of green that are beginning to poke their way out through the cracks, crevices, and hardened earth covered with faded leaves.