Good Soil

We procured a new bird bath bowl, ordered over the telephone a couple of weeks ago, the last one to be had, due to saturated demand for such things in our region. The pedestal sat all by its lonesome for years, before we had the wherewithal to find it a mate.

Our, now complete bird bath is the result of meeting Judy, proprietor of the pottery outlet in Duncansville. She, one of the friendliest and most efficient business women anyone would want to interact with, responded to my late evening, weekend inquiry, immediately. My husband and I picked up our purchase, last week.

This got me to thinking about soil. In case you’re wondering about my thinking processes, Judy told us that their business has been booming, and product availability, sketchy to nil, with all the gardening and outdoor improvements people have been making this Spring and Summer.

COVID19 has forced people into the outdoors, who might not have been so interested before claustrophobia from indoor confinement beckoned them to go outside. The stale air of our indoor quarantine, has made all of us into DIY-sort’s, each and every one of us.

I was thinking about soil because of all the gardening going on in our rural landscape and then Sue Plummer, my neighbor and Facebook friend, asked me if I planned to write a column about a quote I shared, and we both liked, on Facebook. That quote was, “A mistake that makes you humble is better than an achievement that makes you arrogant.”

Again, you might say, what does that quote have to do with soil? I’m getting to it.

I wonder if humility and arrogance are two sides of the same coin. And, mistakes and achievement, ditto.

I grew up with the King James Version of the Bible and had heard the saying “pride cometh before the fall.” This old-timey Scripture in my historical play-list might be why I think that one becomes humble when you’ve fallen from your self-assigned throne of arrogance. Does one sit on that throne because of the laurels of achievement?

Is it possible to be humble during the first half of life when you’re striving to achieve; when you’re not fully planted or settled in your soil yet? Is it possible to maintain lasting achievement without the benefit of mistakes, along the way?

Does an accumulation of mistakes or failures add up to humility? One answer to that is probably, “always, never,” as some guy said on an old “MADtv” skit. Another possible answer is, “sometime, for some people, maybe.” I know these are nebulous answers, if answers, at all.

I’ve noticed poise and composure, otherwise known as self-possession, creep up on me in this my second half of life. I haven’t tried to achieve this thing called poise. It just happened when I stopped fighting the life that wants to be in me; stopped trying to be someone I “should” have become. And I stopped hiding from my mistakes.

Again, soil?  Well, the root word of humility, is humus. Humus is the good kind of soil, fertile soil, filled with nutrients. Humus is the kind of soil we all want to plant our precious investments into.

Humus results from partially decayed (decomposing) plant or animal matter. Something has to die to produce humility. One could guess, that something, is pride or arrogance.

Humus and humility share the feature that something good and enriching comes out of something dark, decayed, and decomposed. Life after death is a good way of describing humus and humility.

In Matthew 23, verse 12, Jesus is quoted as saying, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” I guess I missed that one in my first half of life church absorption, so I learned humility the hard way, being humbled by sudden, unexpected adversity, in the gap-years between the first and second halves of life.

I wonder if those of us who hang on to our pride too long, haven’t experienced enough loss or decomposition of what we’ve planned, to possess the nutrients of humus. We haven’t yet grown through our pride.
Growing from adversity, being planted in humus, has a name, post traumatic growth. This second-half of life growth spurt that a host of people experience, is otherwise known as humility, some might perceive it as wisdom.

Jesus shared some wisdom about humus in Matthew 13, the gardening metaphor. Some people, of course, never sprout or take root in any soil. Birds steal some of their seeds. Some of their seed, planted in rocks without much soil at all, sprang up quickly but with no depth or root structure, withered in the sun. Thorns choked others out. But lo and behold, fruit came from the seeds planted in humus.

When we take the initiative to humble ourselves, we become humus, prepared, good, nutrient-rich soil which is ready to support whatever vegetation our purpose on earth requires. All of our exposure to storms and adversity, planted stamina into our growing season, extending life, after death.

I’ll close these thoughts, as I began, with a gardening metaphor that hopefully will encourage one and all: “When you’re in a dark place, you sometimes think you’ve been buried. Perhaps you’ve been planted. Bloom.”

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