On the Permanence of … Everything…?


My new garden sleeves arrived in the mail this week. I started wearing garden sleeves a couple of years and now I will not be without them. I treated myself to a new pair for this season. As pleased as I am with them, I was even more delighted with the packaging. It bears a friendly greeting. “Hello! This bag is 100% compostable.” I love that my sleeves are shipped from Washington State and that they are constructed with fabric made with recycled trash. So it was a special bonus to learn that I can put the shipping bag in my compost bin. I try to do business with companies like this as much as possible. I like knowing the package bringing my recycled sleeves will not outlive me, like the plastic ones Amazon uses. The plastic bags will not break down in my life time, but the compostable bag will. So, which is permanent?

I was thinking about death and the weird way most of us (in the U.S.) deal with our dead: Preserving our loved ones’ bodies with chemicals, putting them in a pretty box, then sealing the box in a concrete vault and burying it. Our loved ones sleep safely on a satin pillow forever. Right?

This reminds me of the bowls of leftover meals in my refrigerator. As soon as the light goes out, the food begins to decompose. Mold starts to grow. The molecules breakdown and the food becomes less like itself with each day. At the end of the week, I browse my refrigerator, open the leftovers to confirm they are inedible, and toss them in the compost. The glass containers did not protect the food from decomposition. The concrete vault does not protect our bodies, either. The decayed food will become nutrition for the garden. But the decayed bodies of our loved ones will stay contained in that box in cement giving nourishment to… nothing. Which is better?

When my Aunt Francis passed away, her children had little money and there had been no insurance. My mother helped my cousins plan their mother’s funeral. I remember hearing her tell my daddy. “I cannot let them bury my sister in that cheap composite box,” she said. “I can see it getting wet and coming apart.” A ghastly thing to imagine, for sure. Paying for a more expensive casket was a generous thing for my parents to do. But to what end? To make the living feel better?

I remembered this when the time came to plan my parents’ funerals. My siblings and I chose beautiful caskets that no one will ever see again. We picked them out like we were buying our parents new cars instead of a storage for their bodies. The caskets were almost as expensive as cars and I would not have been surprised if the man at the funeral home had asked if we wanted to take one for a spin first. Mom’s casket was simple but elegant and Daddy’s was natural and rugged. Neither were the “basic model.” We could not allow our parents to arrive in Heaven driving a cheap casket. The man showed us bronze name plates for the outside of the vaults, as if Jesus might need something more than the large headstone to locate them. In our grief, we were vulnerable; we bought the name plates. It made us feel better knowing we hadn’t been cheap with our parents. The need to feel good about our actions is part of the human condition.

For some reason, putting leftovers in a covered dish makes me feel better than sending them immediately to compost. Tossing out edible food seems like a waste, but it is no less wasteful than waiting a week to do it. In fact, composting leftovers is not wasteful at all. The rotting food will feed the worms in the compost, the worms will feed the soil, which will feed the garden. The leftovers from the creamed spinach and potato pancakes that fed me today, will feed me again next harvest time.

We have a fireplace in our home and we burn the logs Charles cuts from fallen trees. When we clean the fireplace, we put some of the ashes in the chicken pen. The hens use it for dust baths. The remaining ashes are sprinkled in the garden and orchard. In this way, what was once a dead tree has become food for more trees, which will become food for me, the animals, and eventually, future trees. Trees are forever.

Apparently, nothing doesn’t exist. No thing becomes nothing, a thing will always be something. The leaves in my yard will break down into nutrients that will be consumed by something else. The consumed becomes part of the consumer. I have decided that, upon my death, my body will go the way of the fireplace log. My directive is that I be cremated and there be no urn to store them. My ashes will be scattered. Perhaps Charles or my kids will sprinkle them in the blackberry patch. The blackberries can be made into jam and my body will become a part of anyone who eats it, or the birds and deer that eat the berries. I really love the idea of Dianey Bo-Bo Blackberry Jam into eternity.

The Amazon bag is dead. Although it is possible that it will be recycled into something else like a Rothy’s shoe or garden sleeves, plastic will never be anything but the chemicals that make up plastic. Eventually, in several lifetimes, it may break down into loose plastic molecules, but it will always be plastic. The plastic bag is permanent, but limited. The compostable bag is made from corn and other vegetables, which is food. When food breaks down it becomes food in a different form, over and over again. It is permanent, but limitless.

I’ve heard it said that nothing is permanent. I don’t think that is correct. I think everything is permanent. I will be me forever, but my form will change. So will yours.

Isn’t that great?

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