As we sat in conversation about traditional farming methods, she broke off to declare, with real passion, “I hate it when they call soil ‘dirt’! I just hate it! I wish they wouldn’t use that word! Dirt! It isn’t dirt, it’s soil!”
For a moment I entertained the possibility of pointing out to her that the two words have exactly the same connotations and mean exactly the same thing. “Soil” is no more or less than a different word for “dirt”. Soiled sheets, soiled nappies (diapers) – familiar enough terms surely. But realising that saying so would just make her look foolish and in the wrong, oh just leave it, I thought, and I let the conversation roll along where it wanted to.
But in essence we were in agreement anyway, because I too detest hearing the word “dirt” (or “soil”) applied to the earth. We rely on that fertile layer to grow our food, our beautiful flowers, the grandeur of trees and the green swathes of grassland.
In our family, there’s a running joke where Fi will say about any random things someone mentions, “You’re a . . .” So they will say, “I think I’ll have a tofu-burger,” and she’ll respond, “You’re a tofu-burger!” I know, I know – little things please little minds; still it makes us laugh, where’s the harm . . .
And when I hear someone talking about earth as “dirt”, it makes me want to say, “You’re dirt!” But I guess they might not find it hilariously funny.
Still, in any case, we are dirt/earth/soil/dust/clay – “Dust you are and to dust you shall return,” they remind us on Ash Wednesday. In the Genesis stories of creation, the name “Adam” is a play on the Hebrew word for “earth” – so it means “Earthy” or “Earthling”, because God made Adam from earth, and then breathed into him the breath of life, Holy Spirit, breath of God.
In the last week or so I read with close interest Mark Sundeen’s book The Man Who Quit Money, about Daniel Suelo – I do recommend it. I have learnt so much from it, and found Suelo’s life and philosophy has resonated so deeply with me. But, he wasn’t always called “Suelo”; he started life as Daniel Shellabarger. “Suelo” is Spanish for “soil”, and that’s why he adopted it as a name. The same, really, as God’s choice of “Adam” – made of earth.
Turning these things over in my mind I remembered that “humble” and “humility” originate from “humus”, another word for earth. In agricultural or gardening terminology, I think humus is leaf-mould – the dark, rich, peaty loam that accumulates on the forest floor. I’m not sure about that, though. And “humiles” is Latin for “low” – lowly/humble/earthy – they are facets of the same gem.
Lowliness, humility, earthiness, staying close to the root, Adam, dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return – such peace in that river of connection for me. It is lovely to me that our earth-ness is ordained of God. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that to call the earth “the environment” takes us down a false intellectual trail. It suggests that the earth is something separate and peripheral to ourselves – mere stage scenery for our personal drama. But we are earth, we come from earth and return to earth – God called us “Earth”. Every one of us is Suelo.
And I like the idea that humility belongs to that state of original blessing; clay moulded in the hands of God, receptive to that puff of life, his Holy Spirit, without which we are clay and no more than clay, and with which we become a living soul. We have this treasure in vessels of clay.
Humiles . . . Eden people . . . earthy and simple . . . our being belongs to, shares in, all that lives. As Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, “We inter-are.”
A useful T-shirt. You can’t keep them all.
This was a gift too, from my beautiful mama, and travelled along with me for a number of years. Then I gave it away.
This was my Last Sari. Special to me because it was a gift from someone I love very much, as well as being exceptionally beautiful. There are always reasons to keep things. I decided to keep the love and the beauty, but I live very small these days, and space is at a premium. So I let the sari go.