There is something comforting to me in the idea that I am part of the earth and will always be part of the earth. Maybe it’s rooted in my rural upbringing, where I was familiar with the dirt, and played in it, and got my hands dirty often.
There was a time in my adult life when I had a garden and lived in an old farmhouse that used to be a flower farm. I would come home from work some days and plunge my hands into the dirt—to soften it for planting, or to loosen it to pull up weeds.
That was some of the best therapy I’ve ever received. It reminded me that I am part of the earth, connected to it. I am dependent on it, and it has me. (You know, like when a friend says, “I got you.”) It is supporting my life.
Autonomy without community is a very lonely thing. Independence without interdependence is really a myth, in the empty sense of myth. It’s not true. There’s no such thing. Because actually, we’re all interconnected; with other humans, with other animals. With the flora and the soil of the earth.
In the second account of creation, in Genesis two, God takes up a handful of earth to make a human being. It’s not dust so much as topsoil in an agricultural land. This is the stuff from which life comes. This is the soil upon which life depends, and to which all life returns eventually.
I am made of that. I came from that. I will return to that. I am not alone and my life matters because every life matters.
*Today is Ash Wednesday. Many Christians will receive ashes on their foreheads today and hear the words, “Remember that it is from ashes you come, and to ashes you shall return.” This is my meditation on the tradition. My reflection on being “topsoil” is inspired by the great scholarship of Ted Hiebert who translated and wrote the commentary on Genesis in the Common English Bible.