Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Turning Over in Their Graves

Reaching ever higher levels of recycling is for many people a life’s quest. It also might be a death request.

we-carry-our-dead--trans-crop-u4607A Seattle nonprofit called the Urban Death Project is on the cusp of becoming the world’s first funereal composting center. For people uncertain of their mortal contribution, they can pass knowing their remains will become rich soil in someone’s vegetable patch.

You might think of human compost as a form of reincarnation. You could have been an egghead in life, but reappear as a lemon tree in afterlife.

“Our bodies have potential in them even after we’ve died,” said Seattle architect and project founder Katrina Spade in an interview with Seattle radio station KPLU. “I just think it’s an absolutely beautiful idea that we can be productive one last time.”

In her news blog, OPB’s Lizzy Duffy reports lots of interest among Oregonians in the human compost system Spade envisions. Her sketches hint at a form of recycling heaven, even though it looks eerily like a gentrified architectural rendering of Dante’s Inferno.

udp core with description-crop-u9293For people who wonder about their net worth, Spade figures it at roughly one cubic yard of compost, or enough for a patch of flowers. That should erase any fear some have of being worthless.

Invariably, it will take time for people to warm up to the idea of putting a dearly departed loved one into a compost bin instead of a casket. Many are still adjusting to the idea of putting them in an urn after cremation.

A few brave, far-sighted souls have agreed to donate the dead bodies of family members to science for research to better the lot of mankind. Giving body parts to scientists, however, doesn’t feel as tangible as consigning a dead person to human composting. You know eventually they will amount to something.

We wince at the thought of being buried and having our bodies slowly eaten away by bugs. Before medical science and pathology advanced, that fear extended to being buried alive, which happened more frequently than we would like to think. Now the fear can be eased by the notion that the bugs are good microbes, chomping away to make for a more verdant earth. You might say people can decompose with a certain degree of composure.

web1_compost_1In summing up the benefits of human composting, Spade overlooked touting its benefit as a land-use strategy. Less land would be needed for sprawling memorials or pretentious crematoriums. We can honor our dead on the flower pot hanging off the fourth story faux patio of our high-rise condo.

Yes, it is a brave new world, where people face life’s realities, including death itself. Except, they won’t be facing up. They will be turning over in their graves.

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