I am topsoil + to topsoil I shall return*

I am topsoil + to topsoil I shall return* February 22, 2012

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.

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  • I am a Landscaper/Gardener and I can relate to what you wrote. The earth and it’s soil are constantly reminding me, as well, that we are part of so much more.
    She is full of lessons, that mother of all, and always giving of them freely, if we but only stop for a moment to sensualize all that is present.

    I was recently discussing with my wife and a few friends, what defines us and other things and when we cease to be that of which we are defined? For example; We have ten apples, six, of which, are used to go into the making of an apple pie, how many apples remain.? Most often, then not, the answer responded back to that question is, four apples remain. Seems sensible. However, for some, there still remains, as originally, ten apples. Nothing has necessarily changed aside from it’s appearances. The six apples that were used for the pie, continue to be apples, only now, they are wonderfully interchanged with many other delicious ingredients. In my death I often see myself, liken to the apples, as continuing on. There are parts of me, though I know not what and how much, that will live on and transpire on to another.

    Thanks for sharing

  • Thiago

    I do the same sometimes in my garden topsoil in Vancouver. I keep it warm and loose in the winter, so it’s not like the rest of the frozen earth and it can be a huge comfort. Great article.