The Inchworm Incident
What could an inchworm teach me about the freedom to choose?
Walking with my sister at a local park, I watched her stop in mid-sentence and stare down at the paved road. She murmured something sympathetic. It took me a moment, but eventually I saw what she saw: a small, neon-green inchworm, making its way slowly across the pavement to the verdure on the other side.
She bent down to rescue it, offering a finger for it (him? her? I couldn’t possibly know, so I’ll go with “him” to differentiate from my sister) to climb. He didn’t hop on right away.
He seemed to be checking her out, reaching his head (?) forward and tapping her finger gently with it. (I’m way out of my inchworm anatomy league here, so please forgive me and just go with it.)
My sister quickly changed tacks, and tried to pick him up gently with her thumb and forefinger. He wriggled and flipped, evading the offered pincer. “Oh, well…” she said, straightening up with resignation.
“Hang on,” I said. In total anthropomorphizing mode, I thought I had sensed willingness behind his earlier tentative assessment of her proffered finger. “Try again. I think he might climb up.”
She laid her finger on the asphalt next to him. He “palpated” her again for a few moments while she waited, and then suddenly and decisively, climbed aboard. She airlifted him to the shady grass and set him down with care.
This whole event made me so happy, and I didn’t fully understand why, until I was able to reflect on it a few days later.
We can have the very best intentions to save or rescue someone, but any attempt to control them — even when it’s for their own good (or what we perceive to be their own good) — can create fear, skepticism, and pulling back.
It can be excruciating, because we often have a perspective they don’t have. They are down on the ground, grinding out the inches on the pavement, unable to see how far they still have to go or a danger up ahead, while we have the benefit of distance — or knowledge, or experience.
The trick is to meet them where they are, offer a hand, and then wait with loving patience. They may not choose to get on board, and that’s got to be okay with you. Or they may join you, because what you offered felt right, and because it came with no strings, no expectations, and no coercion. They felt free to make their own choice.
Either way, it all boils down to freedom.
“I just really think you would benefit from having a conversation with Dave [not his real name],” my husband Peter said, again, after I had not-so-politely declined. I bristled.
My husband and I had been struggling with an old issue recently come to light again. He had had a tremendously helpful session with a relationship coach who specialized in that issue, and he thought — no, he knew — that our path to understanding each other was through Dave.
He couldn’t understand my rejection of his suggestion, and I couldn’t really explain it. I just did not want to do it. Pride, maybe? Fear?
A day later, the Inchworm Incident happened, and I suddenly understood: I felt like I was being strong-armed. There was nothing inherently wrong with having a session with Dave; I just wasn’t ready. I needed time to sit with it, feel it out with my antennae. I needed to feel that I was free to make whatever choice I wanted.
In the end, Peter let go of his belief that Dave was the only answer, and we found a different path: a new and better one, one that we chose out of freedom, together.
There are so many severed relationships right now, broken over disputed “truths.” We are divided over vaccination, abortion, the Ukraine, gun control… to name just a few. They are huge issues which tap into our deepest belief systems — systems that feel unassailable. Each side is made up of individuals who are resolute in their convictions.
I’m guilty of feeling like I know what’s right, what’s true, and what to do to fix the problem. But trying to impose my will, no matter how well-intentioned, is not going to bring cooperation and trust. It’s not going to change anyone’s mind.
What if, instead, I choose to treat everyone I encounter on the path the way my sister ultimately treated the determined inchworm? I am, after all, a determined creature myself, inching along on my humble journey of authenticity, trusting my internal guidance and inner timetable. I know I want to be met with gestures that foster my sovereignty and independent choice.