Worms and regeneration

Friday, April 4, 2014

On Sunday we turned the garden soil, marveling as worms the diameter of my index finger squirmed and bunched in every clump we heaved up and over. Every time I sliced my shovel into the ground, I wondered how many worms I had accidentally decapitated. I hated to do so; they are good for the garden. When we bought this house you couldn't pay a worm to take up residence in the bare patch of ground on the sunniest side of the yard. It was dry as elephant skin. Not even weeds would grow there.

Now, just one growing season (and many, many composted banana peels) later, the dirt is the color of espresso and I kept stopping work to bend and gawk at the life writhing just under the surface. The worm real estate market has turned a corner, and bidding's gettin' fierce. Every worm on earth wants to live in our garden.

It's amazing how quickly you can go from parched desert to garden of Eden.

Do worms keep living after you cut them in half? my husband and I wonder. Because there they go, the poor injured ones, bunching and stretching, scrunching their severed bodies back into the ground. Nah, of course not, is the obvious conclusion. But the question still niggles at my mind, because stranger things have happened. Nature can be surprising, and ridiculous, and unbelievable.

I looked it up later: The head side of a worm can, indeed, survive the loss of half its body. Like salamanders and starfish, a worm possesses the power of regeneration. Cut off its tail and a new one will sprout. 

What is the process like, for a worm? After it loses half of itself, does it begin regeneration passively? The way, when your pregnant, cells keep dividing, things keep growing, whether you are thinking about it or not? Even when you're asleep? Or is regeneration something that takes intense energy and effort; like childbirth, is regeneration something that requires everything you've got?

In some circles, regeneration doesn't imply missing limbs but intense rehabilitation. Like an extreme makeover for your soul. They speak of something broken that needs fixing. A few stitches and a great big band-aid, give it a few weeks, and you’ll be good as new.

But regeneration actually speaks of something missing. Something amputated, gone. There's not a band-aid in the world, folks. We don’t like to talk like this, like we are fundamentally lacking wholeness. We don’t want to admit it. Denial is an attractive force when the alternative is facing a reality as bleak as this: Pieces of us have been severed, sliced to pieces. They are gone.

The mind is a tricky devil. It will lie to you. 

Human amputees speak of a phenomenon called “phantom pains.” It’s the sensation of pain, or itching, or cold, in a limb that is missing. Your rational mind knows your arm has been cut off, but your actual experience, your feelings, demonstrate staunch denial. The mind creates pain in the absence of what has been lost.

It has me thinking about the pain points of my life. 

It has me thinking about what pieces of me are beyond recovery, permanently cut off.

The phantom pains keep cropping up, in my relationships, in my parenting, when I sit down to write. Here, too, I lack wholeness. Part of me knows it. 

The other part just keeps shooting pain in the absence. I yelled at my daughter again. I cannot stamp out my bitterness toward another person. I keep crumbling under the self-imposed pressure to pursue a calling that I'm not sure really matters.

There are things that have been lost. 

Lost, Beth, lost. I tell myself again. It is not time for band-aids. It's time for regeneration.


  1. I really love this. Because 1- we have a worm composter inside (no yard for gardening in this phase of life) and they are amazing at regenerating--not just bodies but trash into dirt gold. And 2- because this is so, so hard and true. It's not time for band-aids. It's time for regeneration. Thank you.

  2. Beautiful and thought-provoking. Did you know that they can use a mirror and a box set-up with amputees that have phantom pain to let them 'massage the pain' in their phantom limb and the mind sees it and 'feels' relief? The mind is our most powerful tool--if only we can grasp the truth from the Regenerator.