A Worm-frightened Boy

by Dan Dan
English translation by Sylvia Lee

On a trail path not too far from the Sudbury campus, a chubby little grub was burrowing. A young boy who was picking up BB bullets saw it and screamed, “I’m terrified!”

While still looking at the cuteness of this wriggly grub as I have always been fascinated by nature, I replied,
“I actually find it quite interesting, but let’s move on if you are scared!”

Two hours later, we adventured back to the trail path and as we approached the area around 10 to 20 metres away from where we encountered the grub, the young boy became anxious and asked, “I’m scared of the bug, can you carry me ?”

I was shocked that, after such a long while, the emotion elicited by the grub was still very active within him. I suggested, “We don’t have to go there, let’s take another path far away from the grub.”
“But I’m still very scared,” the young boy replied.
“Alright, let me carry you then.”
I picked him up and dropped him off at a spot very far away from the grub.

As we returned from our little adventure half an hour later, at a spot even further than 20 metres away from the grub encounter, the boy asked again, “I’m scared of the bug, can you carry me?”

I cannot be sure whether it was because I was already quite exhausted from our adventure, or the fretful tone of the boy’s request that triggered me. I heard a whisper in my head, “Do you just want me to carry you so you don’t need to walk? There’s really no need to be scared because the grub is probably long gone. Be a little braver!”

“It’s a need!” flashed to mind and I piggybacked him immediately. After travelling a very short distance, he asked me to put him down.

I shared this story with my husband after work,
“I honestly don’t completely understand what he was scared of. I guess if it were you, you would have asked him to walk by himself, right?”
The man whom I have always thought of as a bit on the tough side replied firmly, “No, I wouldn’t!”
Then, I heard another story.

There was a trail path at Ma On Shan, where beautiful fallen amber leaves adorned it during autumn. A young boy was afraid of a small wriggling worm he spotted under the leaves and was reluctant to continue walking. He instinctually held onto his grandma’s hand.

His grandma shook off his hand and slapped it apathetically and said, “What are you scared of? Man up, boy! It’s just a tiny little worm! You are so pathetic! Hurry up!”

The boy couldn’t hold in his fear and started to cry. He shut his eyes tightly, covered his ears, and ran over those leaves. From that day onwards, some unexplainable fear and hatred arose in him every time he passed through that section of the trail path. Twenty years have passed, the little boy has literally “man up” physically, but every time he sees a worm, he would still scream loudly.

My husband’s eyes welled up and said, “That fear has never left me.” I went over to hug him.

What exactly is a “need”? Every life exists in this world from non-existence. As miraculous as it is, it also carries life’s primitive fears. Humans, in our infancy and childhood, lack survival skills, so it is only natural that we crave connections with our primary caretakers to ease our sense of uncertainty and anxiety in our immediate environment.

All “needs” are equal. Every individual has their own unique sentiments towards everything in life. What triggers the “need” is different for each individual, but the emotion elicited is always real and intelligible. At the same time, the “need” motivates us to create, pursue and express.

Does it mean “grown-up” or “perfect” people do not have “needs” then? I am twenty-odd years old myself, and sometimes I still seek help from my other half to prepare my Chinese medicine for me. Was I incapable of doing so myself? No, but fear overcomes me when it comes to taking Chinese medicine. I still have vivid memories of my child-self throwing up the medicine as soon as I had consumed it. Having someone else to prepare it for me somehow soothes that fear and is felt as an encouragement. As a “grown-up”, I have found ways to express my needs in a non-emotional manner and respond to my own needs. Yet, as a child, isn’t it most ordinary that we would express our fear in the most “primal/instinctual” ways such as crying, tantrums and anxiousness?

Oftentimes, we choose to suppress, refrain from expressing ourselves or responding to others because we have internalised all the long-term criticisms and judgement since our childhood. Subconsciously, we tend to project this impractical hope for our children to have the ability to do what we couldn’t do ourselves, that is to have the strength to resolve all these negative emotions by themselves without any assistance. When a child expresses a “need” that is non-agreeable with us, our immediate non-mindful reaction is either to condemn or gently “encourage”, “You are very brave. You can do it!” However, isn’t that just another way of denying their feelings and needs, like saying to them, “Your feelings are dismissible, you need to be someone else?”

Those unattended needs would probably be like that tiny worm under those autumn leaves, eternally buried within us. That disappointed boy might have to spend a lot of time on healing before he could go back on his original path.

So please, if possible, pick up those children in need around you and accompany them on their path. People who have their needs fulfilled are neither “spoiled” nor fragile. Every day in Sudbury, I see children who are emotionally secured and self-assured, naturally being responsible and confidently exploring the world around them. I believe that every person, who is powered by warm human connection, will always carry immense courage to learn, express, and face the unknown and go forth confidently. Perhaps one day, those children will return our favour… and what an empathetic world it would be!