The day before the last day of school last week brought a terrible thunderstorm to Northeast Florida. The rain poured down in sheets and wind ripped through the trees like a buzz saw. But the next morning was clear and cool as the Tyrant and I walked to the bus stop for her last few hours as a fourth-grader.
We had our eyes down because she likes to look for doodlebugs. Or roly polys, or the latin word armadillidiidae, whatever you call them. We didn’t see any doodlebugs that morning. We only saw worms. Big fat worms, little scrawny worms, half-dead worms, squiggly worms, all congregated near the water still draining along the curb. But then we passed my neighbor’s driveway, the neighbor who yells at the kids for standing on her grass, and the driveway looked like a Picasso drawing if Picasso had drawn with worms. Dozens of them, all squirming on the concrete in a desperate bid to survive.
For a minute, the Tyrant, me, and two other neighborhood kids just stared. I have always told my children to steer clear of this property because the woman who lives there is a witch who will cook them in her oven. But the kids, oblivious to the danger, threw down their backpacks and embarked on an emergency rescue mission. I put down my coffee and helped. We tossed them into the grass, worm by worm, sometimes using sticks and leaves to coax the sticky bodies off the drive.
We didn’t stop until every worm had been rescued. A few minutes later, the bus pulled up, and the kids grabbed their backpacks and raced off, ready to finish the year. That afternoon, summer began, and the Tyrant was ecstatic for exactly 19 hours and then she was bored. Sigh. Only nine more weeks to go.
Meanwhile, my summer officially began on Memorial Day with the annual CrossFit Murph workout. It’s named after Lt. Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL, who died in Afghanistan 12 years ago when he tried to summon help as his SEAL team exchanged fire with the Taliban. The workout consists of running one mile; completing 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats; and running another mile, all while wearing a 20-lb weight vest. It’s terrible, even without the weight vest, which I don’t wear, because I carry extra weight around with me anyway. This was my third year doing Murph, and possibly the first year I didn’t require medical attention after completion. I did ring rows instead of pull-ups because of a shoulder injury and I mostly walked the last mile, and I still threw up in my mouth a few times. I finished in 69 minutes. Hot Firefighter Husband finished in 48.
“You’re so badass,” said my neighbor. A different neighbor, not the witch. And I might be a little bit badass, but not because of this workout, which melts me into a puddle and prevents me from lifting anything heavier than a bottle of Advil for the rest of the day. I dread this workout. I fear it for weeks in advance. I have butterflies from the first step of the first mile until the heat cramps kick in about a 1/2 hour later. But I do it because it’s my way of remembering, of recognizing the sacrifice, of reminding myself that people have died so that I may live in this country built on freedom. It’s nowhere near as hard as walking into a storm of bullets, but it’s something – a purposeful decision to make my life harder if only for a couple of hours.
It’s not exactly changing the world. But it changes my understanding of it, and perhaps that’s an important first step. We can’t fix the agonizing strife on this earth all at once, but we can do it gradually, right? Mile by mile, squat by squat, and worm by squiggly worm, we can learn what it means to survive.