In June/July last year I encountered it for the first time. On my way to work walking past the avenue of lime trees I felt sick, my heart cracked and I felt helpless. And every morning I set out on a mission: you can’t save them all, but every little life counts.
When taking a walk with my mum and my sister in the rain it is like a dance. They are moving back and forth, are down on their knees, change positions between sidewalk and street – a rain dance of its own kind. They don’t care about getting wet. They don’t even use their umbrellas if the cause asks for both hands to be used. The cause, that are the earthworms. Those brown, slimy worms that some (birds) like to feed on and some (people) mostly like to ignore or are disgusted by. And some, like my mum and my sister, set out to save as many of them on their way. Never mind that it rains, never mind that they are actually on their way to an event or date and never mind that others (me and formerly our dog) had to wait in the rain, holding on to umbrellas and pointing out to the next earthworm to be saved. We had scenes when we are on our way home, at night in the rain, and with little wooden sticks they tried to get them all from the road and sidewalk onto grass. And there were a lot of them! I got so caught up in their saving mission that I accidentally wanted to save another wooden stick, just because they look so damn similar! Also in general, the earthworms aren’t at all cooperative. They don’t even try to hold on to the stick. So it takes at least two tries each time before it lands on green, wet security.
As I said before, our beloved dog didn’t care that much for earthworms. However, she was an expert on hedgehogs. During evening walks in late October and November she would detect our foundlings: hedgehogs that were too small to make it through winter on their own. My dad had to get the cages ready and every little hedgehog was medically examined. Every night the cages had to be cleaned and then they had to be fed. That was our dog’s favourite part and to be honest, the only reason why she loved hedgehogs that much. She loved sharing food with them; or to be more precise: she loved it when she got some of the food as well. Over the years we had about 15-20 hedgehogs hibernating on our balconies (one year we had 8 of them) before we let them free in spring the following year. Each hedgehog got its own name and we can tell a story to everyone of them.
Maybe it is no wonder that it breaks my heart seeing the bees and bumblebees lying beneath the lime trees, starving to death, being crushed by feet and wheels. Every morning I am horrified about walking that way. But I know that they are there so I cannot take another route. So every morning I set out on a mission: you can’t save them all, but every little life counts. These days you find me kneeling on the ground, trying to convince a bumblebee to find rest of my palm and finding them a safer place to collect their strength.
I know that they will probably die of starvation. This year I can already see the difference: fewer bumblebees under the lime trees. And even though I am afraid of having to walk past a cemetery of black and yellow I am more afraid of a time when the sidewalk will be only covered in grey.
When I hold on to one of them in my hand and I get a closer look I wonder: what are we doing to them? What are we doing to this world? Who are we to cause them so much pain? Why could anyone think that their lives don’t matter; that they don’t play a part?
I grew up in a family of kindness and compassion. And I can tell – now more than ever – by the smallest acts, directed towards the smallest living beings that their love and patience is shaping my thinking and acting every day. Interestingly enough, I only came to this realization a couple of years ago. I guess when you are young you take it as a given or in my case, I was too obsessed with world peace and getting frustrated over world problems that I lost touch with what matters the most: those right in front of you. They make up my world. And it starts with the smallest.