Being an old guy, I take a brisk two-mile walk every day to maintain my health. Along the way I see dozens of squashed earthworm corpses on the road, so I rescue them from the pavement after the rain. I don’t mind touching their tender bodies. And I’m not alone. Once, while scooping 20-30 worms from a puddle a man, a fellow walker whom I greet from time to time, passed by. I said, “I’m rescuing worms, I know, it’s weird.”

He said, “It’s not weird in the least; I do it all the time. Nothing weird about it.”

Recently I was squatting in the street trying to capture a worm when a woman pulled into her driveway and stopped, rolled down her window, and said, “What do you have?”

“Worm,” I said.

She said, ”Thanks for rescuing it.” I know others who do this as well, so I thought I should inform my fellow citizens that there is a secret cult of worm rescuers in our midst.

Most people know that worms are beneficial for the soil, but there are even better reasons. Ultimately it’s about recognizing the interdependence of all life and the ability to see ourselves in other beings, even worms. Empathy certainly plays a big part, and a willingness to step out of our ego shell and take the needs of others into consideration. It is the direction in which we humans are evolving. It’s a necessary movement because we are using up the earth and killing ourselves and the animals, our fellow travelers on this planet, in the process. We won’t find peace, outer or inner, unless we soften that shell and allow other beings into our hearts.

This why our new President’s budget is such a tragedy. When money is perceived to be tight, it is always the weak, the vulnerable, the sick, the poor, the elderly, who end up suffering the most; those who are least able to help themselves. It is ironic that many of the people who don’t believe in Darwinian biological evolution believe in social Darwinism. Those who are the most ambitious, or greedy, or selfish, or just plain lucky, get to win and neglect or exploit those who are less fortunate. FDR once said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

We talk a lot about freedom and individuality in this country when too often it’s just a cover for, “I want to do what I want regardless of what it does to other people, animals, or the environment we share.” It is the mentality of a child, although I’ve known many children who have already gotten past that stage.

So it’s a race over whether we grow up and acknowledge how much we rely on each other — all each others — for food, clothing, inventions, safety, information, help, prosperity, wisdom — in short, happiness — before we destroy the planet and its inhabitants, including us. I try to stay optimistic despite the gloomy outlook. Rescuing worms helps. Besides, after all these years, I believe I’ve finally found my true calling.

A native Oregonian, retired school bus driver, nature freak, Buddhist, and gardener David Leo Kennedy has lived in the Rogue Valley for 29 years.