“You look like yesterday.” Margaret set her crossword aside and smiled warmly from the bench outside Northwestern Hall at Luther Seminary. It was Friday afternoon and I’d just finished a long day of academic jargon at a religion conference. Intriguing ideas, to be sure, but this is what I’d been waiting for. “Yesterday” was more than fifteen years ago.
Back in 1980, at Wartburg College in Iowa, we dated for a year.
We were pretty serious, but for a host of reasons things didn’t work out. We went our separate ways. Married other people. Had kids. Exchanged long handwritten letters at Christmas and birth announce- ments in between. And then we lost touch.
When I greeted her that Friday in April 1999 it’d been fifteen years since we’d seen each other and ten years since our last letters. In that decade of silence we’d both experienced painful divorces.
Margaret wound up in Saint Paul, while I’d landed back in Iowa, teaching at Luther College in Decorah. That spring, I tracked her down through the Internet, called her up—and hung up before she answered. Ten years is a long stretch of silence to break, especially for an introvert. But I dialed again. This time we spoke, and three weeks later there we were.
Setting out from Decorah for Saint Paul that morning, I knew I’d be at the conference all day, and that Margaret would be waiting for me at the end of the day. I also knew I had once loved her deeply, and that I had no business allowing “what if” scenarios to run rampant through my mind while I drove north on Highway 52. We hadn’t seen each other in fifteen years. Hadn’t written in a decade. I didn’t even know if she was dating anyone. And yet, what if …
Somewhere between Chatfield and Rochester, it hit me: “If it looks like things are going to get serious, you’d better clear the worms before you find yourself in another relationship where they’re off-limits.” In my last marriage I’d spent years trying to persuade my wife about the merits of worm composting. I’m no ecologist. I just take my planet seriously, and I thought feeding our kitchen waste to a bin of worms sounded cool. She did not. At all. That marriage had problems far bigger than the “worm impasse,” but it was worms that interrupted my “what if” musings along Highway 52.
Hours later, back at her apartment, Margaret’s smile pushed the little red wrigglers out of mind. She fed me a delicious meal, grilled in her back yard, and we shared the sort of conversation that left both of us wondering if we’d merely imagined all those silent years. After- ward I retreated to the living room and browsed her bookshelves while waiting for her to join me. That’s when the epiphany happened. Second shelf down, smack in the middle: Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof. I kid you not: the very book that came with the worm compost kit that had caught my eye years earlier.
I suspect many of our lives contain nudges from the Universe about which path we ought to take. That day the Universe used worms to tell me Margaret was my path.
We began dating that summer and courted for two years, allowing ourselves and our children time to get acquainted across the 150 miles between Decorah and Saint Paul. We married in 2001, and that Christmas Margaret and all the kids got me a worm bin. Another decade has passed, this one in joy. And both our marriage and the worms continue to thrive. Right here in Saint Paul.