I know I wrote about the journey of the butterfly on the last road, but not all middle places are as magical as they one of the caterpillar turning to a butterfly. Some of the middle places feel more like a dumpster fire.
I don’t have a car anymore so when I drive somewhere, I have to drive the giant pickup truck. It is enormous. I don’t love parking it, or passing people in it or getting groceries in and out of it. So usually Marq drives, or I will ride somewhere with a friend.
But every once in a while, I have to drive it. Last year, my son came to visit in the deep of winter, where we spend those months in the desert in St. George, Utah. He and I we went to run some errands together and I had to drive the great big truck because he hates driving it even more than I do. When we were turning the corner on one of the busiest intersections in town, going uphill, the truck totally lost power. Rather than continuing to turn the corner, I just went straight through the light and got as far as I could while we were coasting. We made it almost all the way out of the intersection and then we hurried and got out and started pushing to get the rest of the way out.
Luckily, the road we ended up on was sort of a dead end going into a Motel 6 and so we just sat in that giant truck and tried to figure out what to do. The back of the truck was sticking out further into the intersection than it should have been but we did the best we could.
I started to laugh and then my son started to laugh. We didn’t even talk about what was so funny, because I don’t know that you could put your finger on it or if it would even be funny out of the context of the 2 decades we’d spent doing life together. It was funny because OF COURSE I was the one this would happen to on the ONE time I decided to drive. And it was just a weird time in life all together with one thing after another happening — those times when you’ll cry if you don’t laugh.
It was the messy middle.
People tell me all the time that they cannot believe how resilient I am. I wasn’t born this way, I don’t know if anyone is born resilient. it’s just something that happens over time, and it’s not something you set out to learn because it’s really not something that can be learned in a book. It’s experiential, and it takes a LOT of experience. You just keep doing hard things until they’re not hard anymore. You keep doing impossible things until they are possible. The same way that most of us can walk with our own two legs even though we couldn’t walk when we were babies. We don’t even think about the fact that we can walk and we couldn’t walk at one time. We don’t think about it because we just do it now without thinking about it. It’s easy.
That’s how almost everything in life is. It’s hard to do until it’s easy. That’s not to say that everything that is hard to do becomes pleasant to do, but if you do it enough times, it just doesn’t feel as difficult to do anymore.
Unless, again, you tell yourself stories that make it more difficult than it has to be.
When we are not where we were anymore and we are not yet where we are headed, we can seriously let ourselves believe that we are never going to get to where we most want to be. We can also just lose steam and motivation when we can’t see the end and we can’t see where we started, either. That’s how we get stuck. That’s when we start to numb ourselves so we don’t have to think about any of it…not where we started, not where we are headed, and certainly not where we are stuck.
It’s the messy messy messy middle of the journey from here to there. Or there to there. Or where to where.
I don’t love this place on most journeys, I have to say. It’s like having someone watch you while you are part way through a painting. You know that if you keep going, you’ll eventually get that painting where you want it, but sometimes it’s awful and ugly and such a mess. And it makes it worse when others are watching. It’s humiliating and it makes you nervously clumsy. It makes you feel like you have to explain all of your steps out of the ugliness so that they THEY KNOW that YOU KNOW how ugly it is.
That moment in the truck in that busy intersection felt that way too.
I have been in situations like this before, but I was so much younger. And for some reason I figured that as I got older, the middles wouldn’t be messy anymore. Seems like you should have enough experience by now that you can just ACE all of the journeys inside of the journey. But these days, I am much more surprised at minimally messy middle parts than I am of massively messy middle parts. Seems like that bigger mess is par for the course — especially when you’re reinventing or rebuilding or restoring.
And there’s a tremendous temptation to feel humiliation and embarrassment. And I do struggle with that sometimes when I get stuck in the middle of the story and keep re-reading the same middle chapters over and over again, pretending they are the end of the story.
I would have loved for my son to come and visit and see that his mom was incredible successful and healthy and passionate and put-together and joyful and wise and impressive. With millions of dollars in the bank for retirement. And an epic guest house for him to stay in. And a sensible car for me to drive that I can actually parallel park. Maybe even a pool for him to take selfies in with hashtag #hanginwithmycoolmom
But that’s not what it looks like in this messy middle. So we laugh.
My kids and I have already been through a lot together. Marq’s brain injury happened when I was 33 years old and the kids were 3, 4, 8, 11 & 14 years old. We figured out lots of messy middles together, and we made it fun. But now the kids are all adults and I thought by now that I’d be helping them through their messy middles and I would have it all figured out.
But life is just not like that.
Every morning when my son was visiting, I would make him a green smoothie from the fold-up table that held our blender. I think about all of the years I made them Eggo Waffles with a bowl of fake maple syrup, and the way they’d move to the next seat at the kitchen bar when too much syrup was spilled at their place, until the entire kitchen island/bar was covered in syrup. I’d be getting ready for work and taking care of Marq and I’d give them their waffles, cut into strips, with a little bowl of syrup to dip them in and I’d head upstairs to get ready. I’d come back downstairs and have to clean up all of the syrup. In my luxury kitchen.
I realized that I AM doing better when I put kale and oranges and avocados and all sorts of supplements in the blender and gave him that for breakfast instead of a million grams of simple carbohydrates and liquid sugar. I am making wholesome green smoothies on a very un-luxurious folding table.
So maybe our messy middles are like a spiral going up and up and up and up and around and around and around. And just because we are in the same general place on the round and round, we are up a little higher than we were before.
As long as we are alive and as long as we are moving, I don’t think we are ever going to make it from where we were to where we want to be without a messy middle. And that is okay. I think about all I’ve learned in those places over the years and I guess the very best thing I can really do for my children and grandchildren is to NOT be so embarrassed and humiliated by them, but be enthusiastic and grateful and determined. And laugh instead of cry.
Because they are going to have plenty of messy middles too.
The messy middles feel like an insult when we think we should be somewhere else, or that we should have gotten to where we are headed by now. Or things should have turned out in a way that let us stay where we were so we didn’t have to go on another hard journey again (or what we are telling ourselves is “hard.”)
Sometimes you do need to sit in the middle of the intersection and cry. And sometimes it feels better to laugh. It makes the memory of it sweeter. It’s been many months since that happened, and the best part of it was that I was with my son, and we had learned together how to laugh and stay calm in situations like this. We learned it BECAUSE we have been through so much of this kind of thing together.
And let’s be honest, The Road Made of Messy Middles is the one we are all on, folks. Forever and ever. It’s not just one messy middle, it’s the soft squishy place inside of every new experience, every goal, every relationship, every tragedy, every historic event, everything that is growing something.
And the messier the middle, the more it’s true that the thing that is growing is US.
I love for things to look beautiful all the time. But I’ve learned that there are so many different kinds of beauty, and the beauty that captivates me most is the beauty that comes from patina and layers and cracks and chips and rust and life. That’s the stuff that happens to something in the middle of where something begins and where something ends. The parts that are the most exquisite take time. And it seems like a big old mess during that time, a useless and ridiculous and meaningless mess, but it’s not.
It’s what makes us all so gorgeous. In the best way.
I am learning, and will continue to learn until my dying day, that The Road Made of Messy Middles is a road to be held with awe and gratitude. Because getting there means we are still alive. Getting there means we’ve got grit and fortitude and determination. If we were only ever at the beginnings and the endings, it would be a very shallow experience. If we went from the beginning of a great trip to the very end of a great trip and skipped everything that happened in-between, I think we’d remember that the meatiest experiences of life don’t happen at the beginning or the end of those experiences, they almost always happen\somewhere after it all started and before it was over. There are parts that cannot be skipped.
It is hard when you think a rough experience should be over before it is. It’s even harder when you think it never should have happened in the first place. I’ve learned that when we can exercise the mindset of BEING ALL IN whatever experience we are currently in, the gifts are countless. There are a lot of really rough experiences in life that last way longer than we think we can bear, but we do bear them . . . and then suddenly what was hard isn’t so hard anymore. And we get to the other side of it. And we are different because we made that journey and we stuck with it.
It’s okay to cry, and it also feels really good to laugh. Life has room for all of it.
So, resilient soul,
What are you in the middle of right now?
What gifts might be hidden under it all if you look a little harder?
We are all gonna get through this! Thank you for being on The Road Made of Messy Middles. We will all be on this road many times in our life!
Tomorrow, we will travel to The Road Where I Got Called On the Carpet