This Great Mess

Yesterday I was running with my son’s stroller, empty, on my way to pick him up from his grandma’s (I repeat, the stroller was empty). I was careening down a hill when the front wheel began to wobble, and just as a car was passing me and in front of a host of utility workers, I lost control, the zig-zagging plastic death machine began obeying the ancient laws of physics, and I barely escaped flipping over the top as it crashed and rolled, rocketing old beer cans from bygone happy hour walks and forgotten wet wipes flying into the air, finally settling face down on the ground in front of me.

I looked up and saw the terrified faces of the drivers and construction workers, mouths agape, and I started yelling, “No baby, no baby, there’s no baby in here!” to convince all of us, myself included, that everything was okay. All the while I was quickly gathering the stroller, beer can and wet wipes. Then when all parties were satisfied that I hadn’t injured my child, I began to run again, albeit at a much slower pace.

Maybe it was that sublime combination of adrenaline and shame that caused me to start laughing, some ancient defense mechanism kicking in, or maybe it was because the situation was genuinely funny. Regardless, I couldn’t help but reflect as I finished my run and SLOWLY WALKED my child home what a great mess it all was, both the stroller disaster and many other things in my life.

A mess is genuinely something that lacks order or cleanliness, a wreck that has compiled either over time or is a result of some violent catastrophe like an earthquake or gin on an empty stomach. Our difficulty with messiness generally calls attention to our human desire to set things straight, make things clear, define our terms, etc.

But culturally, politically, psychologically, even spiritually, our lives are all messes. Often we are too busy living them to reflect seriously on why we are here, what our purpose might be, and what sort of sense, if any, we find in our human experiences of work, play, suffering, illness, and death.

In today’s culture, it’s sort of a free for all. Find whatever sense you want to in what happens to you, or don’t. Maybe everything happens for a reason, maybe it’s all a random, maybe something in between. But in those liminal moments of loss, wonder, and surrender to the messiness, we might occasionally catch glimpses of something more.

Last night I was enjoying a cocktail at my brother-in-law’s house, when my four year old nephew asked me if I’d like to watch the sunset with him. We walked out to their front yard and sat quietly on edge of a small hill. My two year old son, perhaps sensing that this was a special moment, walked out to meet us and cuddled up contentedly next to me. Together we watched the orange sky fade to red.

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Eventually it was time for bath and bye-byes, and the day faded to night. The great rhythm of life continued.

But for a moment the little ones taught me about silence, about how there really is an order to a lot of it. Moments when events occur somewhat predictably, where we can rest in silence together no matter how many years may separate us.

I haven’t written for a year because life has been, well, a mess. What to say in the face of such chaos, such cruelty, such callousness, such indifference? Sometimes between eruptions of protest a concerned silence is all I can muster.

But eventually those moments of meaning, however hidden or obscure, catch up with me and I have to sit down and put them into prose, not to bring order to the chaos but to let the beauty of the chaos reveal itself to me. To be an instrument of that Wonder working in me and in all the wild crazy things, too.

Even within the mess, if I open my heart to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful I find enough meaning and love to make my heart ache, and repent of my own cynicism.

And so I’m writing again, maybe a little more of a curmudgeon, maybe a little wiser, but maybe a little more open too. And I remain convinced that each or us, in big or small ways, can make a wonderful difference in the lives of one another, whether by great acts of sacrifice or by just settling down to share a special moment together.

And maybe in the end we’ll learn that life, while messy, isn’t a total mess. That with a long enough timeline and a wide enough perspective, all our lives and all our little moments will create works of sublime wonder, and we’ll realize we were each works of art, messes and all.

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