I believe in the compost theory of life. Every fall in St. Louis, the weather turns cold and our compost pile can no longer absorb all of our kitchen waste. Consequently, we have to start putting most of the scraps in the trash. This causes me great personal pain. Every banana peel, every broccoli stem, every carrot top takes with it a pang of – what exactly? Guilt? Loss? Missed opportunity? In trying to understand that feeling, I have been reflecting on its origins.
When I was young, my father frequently took us for walks in the woods, pointing out plants and animals. He gave them names, told us their stories. He showed us how they fit together and depended on each other. In the midst of this abundant life, I felt liberated from the confines of myself.
Later, as a young adult searching for meaning, I would lie in the sand at the ocean’s edge, and disappear into the sound of waves breaking on the shore. I would hike to the top of a mountain and lose myself in the vast expanse all around me. This connection with nature brought me peace.
Now, as a middle-aged woman with the responsibilities of mother, wife, and physician, I rarely have the opportunity to travel beyond the mental machinations of what to have for dinner, who needs to go where when, and whether I did everything I could for the last patient I saw. At times our individual, ordinary struggles can feel overwhelming, each decision momentous and difficult. It is at these times that I continue to find solace in the small moments of connection with the natural world: the sun-warmed earth under my bare feet, the laughter of a pebbled brook, the crisp rustle of brilliant orange leaves, the whisper of a bird’s feathers, the silence of snow. These moments remind me that my self, my life, are just a tiny part of the endless sea of ever-shifting existence. To me, that is a great comfort. I do not need to find meaning in life; life just is. And through nurturing life, through giving love, I am doing the best that I can; I am doing my part.
So what does this have to do with compost? To me, composting is a simple, daily demonstration of reverence for life, and of its continual renewal. It is an expression of our connection to the earth. We are all, ultimately, compost. And so, when I die, I want to join the banana peel, the broccoli, and the carrot top; to return to the earth from which I came, and become, in time, new life.
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