Burials and Planting

By Ken Wells - 05/12/2021


Series Two: Blog Twenty-Eight

We had two lakes when I was a kid, the old and new lake. Paradise Lake was the proper name for the old lake. The lake really didn’t do the word paradise justice. I would describe it as a less than average lake. You could not ski on the lake and they closed the public beach. They wanted it to be a fishing lake only. Once in the shoals of the North end I caught a big goldfish. It was about a pound and a half. Counting its fancy tail, it was really big. I took it home and put it in a big cylinder tin container and poured a bucket full of water on it. But, it didn’t last long and died quickly. It probably didn’t like all the chlorine in our water. The trip from the lake to my house was probably way too traumatic. I named my goldfish Freddie. I took Freddie to our backyard and buried him properly and put a wooden cross on his grave. One week later I went back to Freddie’s grave and exhumed him. He was full of maggots and his carcass stunk to high heaven. So I buried him again. The following spring my mom planted a tomato plant at the same spot I buried Freddie. By then, the winter had obliterated my homemade cross to mark Freddie’s grave. Where Freddie was buried now supported a tomato plant that was thriving and growing.

I’ve been thinking about Freddie over the weekend and all the things we have to bury and the things we plant to replace what we buried. In my life I have buried both sets of grandparents, both parents for me and Eileen, two brothers and more friends than I can count. In distinct ways they will never be replaced. Yet, for everyone buried I have had to plant a new relationship.

I am more of an introvert than extrovert. Extroverts thrive from the energy of a crowd while introverts prefer a small group of friends to connect. That said, I am not a loner or a hermit. I need community to thrive. I have had to replace my entire set of friends and plant new ones many times in my life. I carry with me the memory of those who were once close and the connection of the few who are presently in my life.

People dying are not the only reasons for a burial. There are dreams, jobs, eras of time and other life experiences that require we let go and bury what was once vital, true and essential. Addicts can revel with euphoric recall about “the good old days” and the relationships with old drinking buddies who they acted out with. Sober reality reminds us that the old days must be buried and new recovery planted is not compatible with euphoric recall of past glory days of drinking.  Past realities are no more, and it is time that we open our heart to new and different possibilities.

Vocationally, we may or may not be able to transition to the next professional change and environment. At some point, the train needs to pull out of the station without you. It becomes time to bury past hopes, dreams, realities and walk away from what you have always known. People who hang on to what was once in their profession symbolically bring with them the same maggots who were eating away at Freddie’s carcass.

Retirement is a time to bury your life experience and to plant your focus in the present that brings forth the fruit of tomorrow. You don’t have to forget what once was, you just can’t live there. Burying your professional expression is scary. The swagger of special privilege, power, and position gives way to the fear of invisibility and obscurity. Who am I if I can’t hang on to what I did and how well I did it? When you bury your profession and retire, quickly nobody cares how good you were at whatever you did. No wonder retirees are afraid to bury the glory of past days of power and professional purposefulness. They want to wallow in how things used to be and lament that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Instead you need to let go, step aside and allow a new, younger and vital visionary take your place so that the world does not go to hell by way of the hand basket.

Burial brings with it a certain kind of invisibility and obscurity. Before I caught Freddie he was a beautiful orange, red, and silver fish with a gorgeous tail patrolling the shoals of the North end of Paradise Lake. Within a week he was in the ground full of maggots. Change is inevitable for all of us and can happen within a heartbeat. Burial is final and forever. Life requires a somber wisdom to embrace this reality.

Yet, life requires that we put dead things to rest. In its place a phoenix will rise from the fertilizer provided from the buried life, broken dream, or relationship. Future hope and dreams are planted in the soil of suffering, struggle and surrender. The old becomes the manure that fertilizes what is yet to be — new dreams, hopes and aspirations for us all. When we hold on to past positions of power that have wilted and withered, it becomes like walking wrapped in dead skin. Life becomes agonizingly painful. 

Burials always involve grieving what used to be and never will be again. There is a deafening cry “It’s over!” and should be. Burials are heavy, sad, and spawn relief.

Planting provides a startling amazement about the new that replaces the old. There is vitality and invigorating energy within the new that builds on what has been buried. The hope is that old experiences will die and give life to new experiences in recovery. We let old mindsets die. Old patterns that were destructive die and patterns of self-empowerment are planted and thrive. In older age, we step aside and prepare for eventual death so that new planting can cultivate and grow from the lives of those who come afterward.

< What are the dead experiences in your life that you need to bury and put to rest?

< When you think about death, what will you need to bury so that those who follow you can rise like the phoenix and thrive?

< Is there a position or privilege in which you’ve been walking around in dead skin and you need to heed to the deafening cry “It’s over” as it should be? Would you be willing to bury it?

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