Chucking the Compost

By Posted in - Life on June 7th, 2020 The Attentive Body blog by Elaine Konopka

Late last year, along with my Beloved and the bank, I became the proud if bewildered owner of a house in a small village in northwest France. This house has a substantial garden. I am in love with the house. I am more in love with the garden. The house is old and imperfect and in need of major renovation which turns out to be not nearly as fun as those makeover reality shows. But the garden. The garden is perfect. The garden is bigger than me and knows how to handle itself, having grown blissfully unattended for years: poplars and apples, ivy and winter jasmine, unfettered roses making for the roof. And those are just the things I can name.

This love affair is complicated by the fact that we cannot live in the house yet. Two hundred kilometers separate us from our future abode until the renovations are complete. I spend the time planning, choosing, trying to understand insulation and flooring, bathroom fixtures and electrical regulations. Most of all, I’m learning permaculture. And because all the books and tutorials rave about the “black gold” of rich soil, one of my first acts on the new property was to start a compost pile. Since January, each week before a weekend trip to the house, I’ve taken great pleasure in saving up a trash-bag full of refuse to bring as an offering to my long-distance love. It’s become a ritual: scooping out the coffee grinds, dropping the banana peels and egg shells into the bag, transporting it to the house, then pouring it out onto the pile and mixing it with wood bits and leaves. It’s a way to keep a connection to the garden alive until we can be together. I had just started the fifth or sixth bag of scraps when Covid came and locked us into our apartment in the city.

I’m telling you all of this in the hope that you will understand why I kept feeding the compost bag.

As the virus settled in for the long haul, the apartment walls closed in around us and the house and garden became unreachable. I could not accept this. It pained me to throw away the coffee grinds and egg shells and so I continued to toss them into the bag under the kitchen sink.

Access to the garden was not the worst casualty of the quarantine. During the lockdown my father-in-law died alone in the hospital and we “attended” his funeral via webcam. I lost a good part of my livelihood. I saw friends lose loved ones and financial security too. I became angry, and a little desperate, and very very stubborn. What began as an act of denial became an act of defiance. Tea leaves, apple cores, potato peels. The bag bulged and leaked and, big surprise, began to smell. I put it in a bigger bag.

My Beloved was extremely patient, but finally stated the obvious: compost isn’t compost in a ninth-floor kitchen. It had to go. I accepted the pain of these strange spring months and admitted that my particular form of unhinged resistance was not helping anything. It was just making my kitchen stink. And so that day we carried the ripe package down to the parking garage and chucked it in the bin.


Over the past few months I’ve heard from many people who are dealing with various forms of loss, people who feel they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them, people who, cooped up with themselves during the quarantine, have been faced with things they know in their guts they need to change. Their stories, and my own, brought home to me the difference between loss and letting go. We cannot always control loss; what we can do is decide to say goodbye. What’s more, we can decide how we want to say it.

A friend who’s nearing retirement was given the option of not returning to his office until September because of Covid. Layoffs may be imminent. He calmly told me he has decided to continue working from home and “let the job bleed out.” This is a strong image of loss followed by a decision. It doesn’t prevent the hurt, but it does give you some leverage and allow you to move on. Resistance to change and loss becomes thorny (or putrid) over time, and holding on will hurt even more than letting go. Hence the notion of “cutting your losses.” But that’s a bit clinical. I can think of many more creative ways to say goodbye.

If change is in the air (as it certainly seems to be), if you have to let go of something or someone, you can resist kicking and screaming, or you can choose to chuck the compost. You can let what is dying bleed out. You can say goodbye like a snake shedding its skin. You can do it like Yocheved leaving Moses in the bulrushes. You can do it like popping a letter in the post. You can do it like pulling the plug from the drain, like throwing a farewell party for a good friend, like watching a plane get smaller and smaller until it is completely out of sight, like closing your eyes in bed at night in the faith that something for the moment unknown awaits you on the other side.


Elaine Konopka is the founder of The Attentive Body in Paris, offering private sessions in attention-based bodywork and pain management, and workshops on writing and conscious breathing. You can also find her on her YouTube channel dedicated to writing for wellbeing, The Write Thing to Do.

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(14) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Anne-Catherine Wright - Reply

    October 9, 2020 at 22:14

    Saw this whilst meandering across the ether. Really enjoy your observations and insights. I can see this dates from a while back when the sun was full and days stretched long into the nights. Now that the autumn has set in and the trees have started to shed their leaves in droves, the idea of composting comes back to the fore in a big way. I am always humbled by the way nature deals with our organic and even inorganic waste, how it transforms and nourishes both earth and living beings. Yes, letting go and loss are intimately related, and the journey to inner peace involves coming to terms with them both. Covid has brought many issues to the fore and allowed us that hallowed space ‘in-between’ , where doing gives way to being, where mind and bodies can restore themselves and where most importantly we create space for the new. Thank you so much for the reminder.

    • Elaine - Reply

      December 8, 2020 at 08:26

      I’m so happy to see your comment, Anne-Catherine. I wrote the blog in spring, you commented in autumn, and I’m replying as we head into winter. The loss and letting go don’t seem to have stopped, but I hope the restoration of body and mind continue too, for you and fo all my readers. I wish you a lovely year-end.

  • Kate Donnelly - Reply

    June 14, 2020 at 00:16

    “What we can do is decide to say goodbye” are words that will remain with me. A simple adjustment can make all the difference. Thank you my friend.

    • Elaine - Reply

      June 14, 2020 at 10:08

      I’m so happy to see your name come up in the comments, Kate. I guess life is full of adjustments. Some are more simple than others. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment my friend.

  • Jana - Reply

    June 11, 2020 at 11:01

    Beautiful thoughts, Elaine. As always. Thank you for your forming them into words and sharing.

    • Elaine - Reply

      June 11, 2020 at 11:19

      Thank you, Jana. The thoughts form on their own, and sometimes I wonder who wrote them. I share them for people like you. Thank you for reading.

  • BB - Reply

    June 8, 2020 at 19:11

    You always seem to know the right thing to write, and so beautifully. Thank you, Elaine…xo

    • Elaine - Reply

      June 8, 2020 at 23:01

      Actually, I never know. I’m always surprised. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment. xo

  • ALISON - Reply

    June 8, 2020 at 17:02

    I have a friend and coworker. English is not her first language. I used the expression, “The rug has been pulled out from under us,” and she replied back, “Maybe the carpet was old.” Simple and brilliant. Thank you, sweet friend.

    • Elaine - Reply

      June 8, 2020 at 23:00

      What a great reply. Sometimes the carpet does indeed get old. Thanks for reading and sharing, my friend.

  • Bronwyn - Reply

    June 8, 2020 at 07:53

    Well I’ve never shed compost-related tears … thank you.

    • Elaine - Reply

      June 8, 2020 at 10:03

      Banana peels work well for drying. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment, dear Bronwyn.

  • The Celtic Eagle - Reply

    June 7, 2020 at 18:22

    The last paragraph is highly poignant. The Universe has offered earthly humanity two situations that give pause, and ask where do we go from here, individually and collectively.
    I refer to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the George Floyd tragedy.
    Beneath the hardships, frustration, anger and despair, derived from the negative elements, there are positive roots being planted that will hopefully evolve toward a more understanding and convivial worldwide atmosphere.
    Nurturing and growing our own particular gardens may be a comforting force in moving

    • Elaine - Reply

      June 7, 2020 at 18:29

      Thank you, Jack. I completely agree about the two situations. This blog was born of one and came to encompass, I hope, the other. I believe that all change starts from within. Thanks for reading, as always.

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