Lessons in the soil
Comings and goings
This past December, I started my new role as editor at Ethos Books. As I took a seat at the table for my first team meeting, I found myself stifling, unexpectedly, a smile. Almost four years ago, I had sat at this exact table when I visited the Ethos office for the very first time. It was early January in 2020, before things began going south. That morning, I had woken up to realise with horror that I had lost my voice.
The loss was complete. I could not so much as croak. The day before, I had screamed my lungs out at USS with an old friend who was visiting Singapore, which, in retrospect, was a bad idea. But I was unable to reschedule my appointment with Ethos, since I would soon be leaving Singapore for Minneapolis, where I was living at the time. So, I had arrived at the office that afternoon as promised, clammy from walking in the glaring sun. Then for the next hour the Ethos team—which at the time consisted of Justin, Jennifer, Suning, Peiying, Bee Choo, Benjamin and, of course, Kah Gay—sat around the table, leaning in as I hissed as loudly as I could. No tea could be had that afternoon. The sound of a cookie crunching would have drowned out my whisper. In another corner of the office, Pethos lay quietly in her aquarium.
Remarkably, until my first day at the job, I had forgotten entirely about this awkward first meeting. For good reason, perhaps. Much has happened over the past four years, both globally and personally. My grandmother passed away from COVID in early 2022, for one. In my personal life, my starting as editor at Ethos marks a new beginning, a beginning that unexpectedly bloomed from my season of grief.
What I find myself mulling on equally, though, is the sense of an ending. After our team meeting, Bee Yan gave me an orientation to the office. At one point, she caught me admiring the mantle at the window.
“Pethos used to be here, but we moved her there,” she said, pointing to a neighbouring shelf.
I searched the shelf for Pethos, but saw only books, plants, and a few ornaments.
“Yeah, we cremated her.”
I realised abruptly that the small vase I’d been passing my eyes over was in fact an urn.
Back at my desk, I opened the handover documents Arin had created for my benefit. There were several, each incredibly organised and detailed. “A full circle moment,” she had said of my joining the team, The Orchid Folios having been her first editorial project at Ethos.
Perhaps a better metaphor than death and loss for this season of change is, rather, life. Reflecting on the work of change-making, adrienne maree brown likens organisers to earthworms that prepare the soil to “nurture the next cycle of life … everything we attempt, everything we DO, is either growing up as its roots grow deeper, or it’s decomposing, leaving its lessons in the soil for the next attempt.” Now, one month into my new role, I continue to be grateful for the many lessons left in the soil.
May the new year bring you new opportunities for growth and decomposition.