Simplicity-Lit: Today, Thoreau asks, are you composting yourself?

Actually, this is a two-fer - the quote is from Walden, followed by an excerpt from my book, Build Your Castles in the Air: Thoreau's Inspiring Advice for Success in Business (and Life) in the 21st Century, in which I reflect on Thoreau's point: "But men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon plowed into the soil for compost. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool's life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before."

- Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Not long ago, my wife and I rolled the dice and purchased mail-order pets for the educational benefit of our children.  These were a colony of ants of southwestern United States extraction (“DO NOT release your ants; they are not native to most of America and DO NOT have a role in your local ecosystem!”) that arrived in our mailbox in the heat of June.

Once in their new home, a pebbly moonscape built around a plastic mound too steep by half, our ants hurled themselves into their labors, spending their brief time on Earth working like dogs to build a semi-elaborate tunnel system.  For hours, we’d watch with our 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter as the ants struggled toward the top of the hill with a huge boulder in their jaws, only to lose their footing (often thanks to a bump from a colleague) and tumble hundreds of ant-stories down to the rocky bottom of the container.

As foreshadowed in the instructions, however, within three weeks of their arrival, the pitiful carcasses of the once energetic go-getters lay strewn across their life’s work, in some cases still gripping a pebble in their pinchers.  It reminded me of the guy who works day and night and weekends too at a widget company, clawing his way to vice president, and then dies, and his obituary headline reads not “Father of three dies” or “Devoted husband dies” or “Man who tried to find meaning in life dies.”  Instead, the obit headline reads: “Widget executive dies” and somehow, even in death, the workaholic’s obsession overpowers all other facets of his life.