When I read my last post to my wife over breakfast last week, I got an ear full. She’s the only one whom I’m sure hears my stuff because I make her listen to my impassioned rendition over the egg and toast. The passion did not persuade.
“You can’t leave it there.” Was her admonition. “You have to tell them how to go forward. What hope is there if we are all just crazies up here in North Idaho?”
I listened to her wise counsel but in my mind, I was dismissing it before I had the next cup of coffee. What did she know of dealing with the electorate? I had run for office in this state. I had been elected three times to the Idaho Senate. Then, I had indeed been unelected in my last attempt. My battle scars were evident. What validity could she bring with this criticism?
I did not blurt that back to her. I need to have a happy home. Instead, I thanked her for her comments and then went out to turn my compost. It is a source of comfort and joy for me, not unlike public service.
As I mixed the rotting leaves and grass, I noted the warmth and function of the microbes, the worms. It needed more water. There would be more lawn clippings soon and it would heat up.
And I stumbled onto a realization. My wife has in fact been an elected official. Martha served on the Board for the Moscow School District. I loved talking to her about the issues and the meetings. She got appointed when a board member stepped down, then got elected (unopposed), but resigned when our daughter got a job in the district. Not the rough and tumble of legislative races, but public service, nonetheless.
I remember her description of painful public meetings. One was about a charismatic coach that was going to be let go. His passionate followers spoke loudly. She felt their passion.
The pile of leaves and grass and kitchen scraps and coffee grounds I collect from the workplace got some buckets of water I collect from the eaves of my garage. As the summer dries out, I will need to use the hose.
She had told me of another public meeting where people shared their passions about standards-based education. Some testimony was brutal, but off the mark. She had spent the hours and listened, and the board had decided.
One thing I have learned from compost is that small things of substance work the best. A big chunk of organic matter will take a while. Chop it up and it will soon be more available for decomposition with the heat and microbes. And such service to growing plants is the purpose.
I get the sense that many of us are looking for the big chunk, the pumpkin or tree root that will fire up our compost of democracy. Such big efforts just impede. It’s the little stuff, like grass clippings and leaves that get the heat going. And good compost is wonderful.
Democracy is like compost. It takes a lot of little voices, a lot of small efforts and a lot of listening to get it hot. And that heat really breaks down stuff so plants can use it. Slow compost with the big chunks and infrequent turning works. But it takes forever. Weeds will grow.
Martha wasn’t in the kitchen when I came back. I rinsed my coffee cup and thought of my chores. She is a wise woman.
So, all of you North Idaho crazies our there, come have some coffee with Martha and me. I will show you my compost and she will cook the breakfast. You are welcome. We will listen. That’s what our representative democracy needs: a good cup of coffee and compost.