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Composting our Lives

wintergreen close up w cby Rose Mary Dougherty*

*Excerpted from her article, “Composting our Lives” from Shalem’s News, Volume 33, No. 1-Winter, 2009. The full issue may be viewed here.

Several years ago, I was participating in a retreat (where)… we were to spend one day outdoors in the surrounding wooded area. Our instructions were to go outdoors, follow a path as far as we thought we should, and then settle ourselves in the place where we stopped, to be taught by nature for the day….

I hadn’t gone far at all until I realized that I had walked into a fenced-in area not too far from the retreat house. “Well,… this is my spot, and I’m sticking to it.” So I sat down on a plot in the corner and began to look at the grass and the weeds, wanting to see what there was to see.

In a very short time, I felt something pecking at my seat. I thought I had sat on a briar, but when I turned to look, it was a chicken on the other side of the fence seemingly letting me know that she wasn’t too happy that I was invading her space…..I began to learn something about the mutuality of respect among created beings and the possibility of peaceful co-existence when none of us considered ourselves superior to the other. I thought that was to be my lesson for the day. And I heaved a sigh of gratitude that my time would not be wasted.

Then I looked to the other side of me and saw the huge compost pile….

I sat for a few minutes laughing at my fate – wedged between a chicken coop and a compost pile! How lucky could one be! But then as I moved closer to the compost pile, I began observing the variety of colors in it, the little spurts of life, its innate beauty, and I was reminded of a line I had read in Ursula Hegi’s book, Stones From The River: “Shards glinted among the moss and weeds that sprouted from the rubble – beauty pressing through debris.” I realized that I wasn’t just seeing waste. I was seeing something rich and beautiful. I was seeing the slow but sure process of the transformation of that which seemed to be but waste. That was my lesson for the day, perhaps for my life.

My experience with the compost pile has stayed with me through the years. In fact, the compost pile itself has become a metaphor for my life/our lives. There is a difference though. The compost of our lives includes not only the debris of seeming failure and discounted experience; it includes the moments of community, love, compassion, service. In short, all of life becomes the fertile ground of transformation. Nothing wasted, nothing lost; all transformable in the alchemy of grace and willingness; buds of the new, of the beautiful showing through it all. We need only wait, trusting that as with the compost pile, all we need for life is right here now, that life is in the waiting as well as the seeing.

2 responses to “Composting our Lives”

  1. Oh how I resonate with this piece. My compost pile, created by some very savvy friends, inspired a life change for me. I suddenly understood the meaning of sustainability, of life growing from death, of resurrection. The beauty literally teaming from a compost pile was and is such a blessing.

  2. Jane Kniffin says:

    “Nothing wasted, nothing lost; all transformable….says it all

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