I toss the avocado skin into the flowerpot under my sink, along with the eggshells from the morning omelette. The mixture looks a bit dry, so I sprinkle a bit of water, making sure to give it a good stir with my gardening trowel. You need the right balance of carbon and nitrogen, a good amount of moisture, the gardening blogs tell me. Oh, and don’t forget to layer your food scraps with soil so you get the right microbe composition. Who knew that decomposition needed so much tending to.
Making my own compost has proved to be quite the home project, one that’s reacquainting me with the art of good, healthy decomposition. This art of letting things die well while still holding onto hope has been one I’ve been learning over again in the time of coronavirus lockdowns.
Weddings, bridal and baby showers I was supposed to attend, and Google Flight tracking reminders for the flights I was supposed to book, taunt me like the avocado skin that pokes out of the compost, refusing to decompose properly. These require their own kind of tending.
One particularly stubborn hope I have been holding on to is the hope of still being able to make the trip out to my boyfriend’s cottage in Michigan we had planned for the end of June.
But every morning, I google “US Canada border opening” looking for a breaking news story and instead read articles on how that would be a foolish idea. I think it might be a better idea to leave that dream in the compost bin and spoon some soil over it, so I don’t have to look at it and be reminded so often of the things I hoped for but never come.
This has been a season of dying to dreams, even small ones. But I feel silly feeling sad over them when I should be sorrowful instead about losses happening on a more global scale.
But the truth is, I haven’t been hugged in a few months and some days; I feel sad about not being hugged.
There are days I think it would be easier if I wasn’t such a hopeful person. It wouldn’t hurt so much if I didn’t have such strong desires. If I could just be nonchalant about outcomes. After all, isn’t nirvana the complete absence of desire, love or wish?
In the middle of wishing it all away, I read one of my favourite philosophers, C.S. Lewis, who says:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
It takes courage to accept our limitations and know that we don’t make our world, but are instead subject to processes outside of our making. Processes like death and decomposition. It takes courage to open ourselves up and be honest about the things we desire, but then also be okay with unfinished stories and unopened borders.
So, about a week ago, I came to terms with the fact that I won’t be going to the cottage this month, in the same way I had come to terms with being alone in my apartment.
I wrote on a piece of card-stock all the things I let go of and stuck it on my fridge to remind myself every time I forgot. “I let go of the need to know, to constantly be productive,” it read, “to have a plan, to be with people…” It was my way of letting my hopes undergo their natural decomposition. And every time I read through it, I was reminded that I wasn’t the one in control, and that was okay.
Montreal’s Atwater Market opened up a few weeks back, and I spent the early afternoon wandering the aisles of potted succulents and herb arrangements before settling on a basil plant.
Back on my apartment balcony, I checked on my decomposing compost. It wasn’t perfect — identifiable remains still littered the top layers — but as I dug deeper, I found a layer of dark-roast-coffee-coloured dirt, my kitchen scraps decomposed to fresh soil save for a few shards of eggshell.
So, it was with this fresh dirt that I potted my baby basil, patting it down around the roots.
I’m still learning to compost, this art of proper decomposition. It is time-consuming and hard on the heart that refuses to let things go. But with every eggshell I see disintegrate, it gets easier. And I know that without this healthy decomposition, there can be no rich, nourishing humus that plants thrive on.
My basil plant, now thriving in the compost I diligently tended during lockdown, reminds me of this reality I still have to choose to surrender to each day. I can hold my hopes with an open hand, and yet hope that good will come from each hope deferred.