I’ve always loved plants. The deep purple of sweet violets peeking out from in between the stones of the front porch, the fragrant lilacs and roses plucked from their bushes, and much to my father’s chagrin, the white cloud of dandelion seeds freed from their stems with a wish and determined breath. My mother’s spring ritual of repotting her houseplants always caught my attention; I felt there was something magical and otherworldly about growing a plant on one’s coffee table. How could there not be some secret of life hiding in that mass of soil and roots- a living breathing thing content to bloom in captivity?
In the coming years, I would learn about soil quality and amendment. Which is a very delicate way of saying I went looking for dead stuff to rot in a chicken wire cage on the hill. Fevered with images of lush herbs and juicy tomatoes, I eyed the dairy fields along the river with hunger. That is, in case you were wondering, the true sign of a gardener: one who is willing to pay money for cow shit.
We develop the capacity to see beautiful flowers and enviable vegetables in a pile of compost. The more varied and disgusting the contents, the richer the resulting compost will be, and we see the effect of yesterday’s coffee grounds in the brightness of azalea blooms.
If only it were so easy to take the advice of Buddhist monks and internalize this wisdom; to see fear and pain as the compost that feeds the blossoms of love and happiness. Curing emotional compost is slightly more complicated than keeping a pitchfork and a hose at the ready. It requires more compassion than I can muster some times, which in turn spurs shame. I harbor anger for people that hurt me, and then turn that rage inward at my loss of control. I’m complicated like that.
Earlier in the week, a rage and shame bender found me driving a little too fast down the Appalachian Highway. I stopped in Sylva, at a Chinese place tucked into a strip mall. The sign said they closed at 930p, my clock read 855p. Desperate for some egg drop soup and tempura fried chicken smothered in some sickly sweet sauce, I poked my head in the door. The manager explained in a torturous display of the English language that they closed at 9pm, but that I was welcome to sit down. So I did, and I drank two glasses of sweet tea with my egg drop soup and lemon chicken while they mopped the floors and wiped down the booths. The guy who brought my meal to my table held loving-kindness in his gaze.
Don’t hurry. We still have to clean. Take your time and enjoy it.
So I did, and I felt better as I left a sizable tip and got back in the car.
I thought the whole way home about how to turn my compost into pretty flowers, about my failure to find compassion for those who have trespassed against me, particularly the betrayal of dishonesty- the deadliest sin as far as I’m concerned. Logically, I understand they are lying to themselves and I just happen to get in the way, but that does very little to soothe my hurt and rage.
The darkness was edging in on me, and as usual, I had no idea how to hold my ground against it. I braced myself to drown again, gasping in a futile attempt to save enough breath until I could break the surface of my sea of grief.
I didn’t drown, though. That familiar heaviness, that awful sinking evaporated, and I felt myself floating on top of the waves, drifting towards the shore, towards the light shining there.
That night, I learned how one finds the compost in their flowers and the flowers in their compost. That rotting pile of trash is sweetened through the rains of acceptance and compassion and the warmth of affection, gently and mindfully scattered on a patch of fertile ground, and gazed upon with loving eyes.
I just needed someone willing to put their hands in the soil.