Chucking the Compost
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.
Motivating, thought-provoking, informative: The Attentive Body monthly newsletter. It’s free and your privacy is respected. Sign up here.