I had some time off from work for March Break this week, so I decided to make a long-overdue trip home to Midland. As usual, I walked through the door on Monday and immediately carried my suitcase up the stairs and into the room that was once painted an obnoxious shade of lime green. I glanced around to see if my parents had changed much since my last visit home and then let my attention settle on the pile of papers that were waiting for me on the desk. My eyes scanned the many Visa statements, pieces of junk mail, belated birthday cards, and magazines that had accumulated since my last visit before settling on a small stack of old pictures that my parents had recently found. I began flipping through the collection and stumbled across this photo of myself (circa the early 90s)…
Once I finished laughing to myself, I quickly snapped a picture with my phone and texted it to my sister with the caption, “I am going to take this as proof that my life has always been a bit of a disaster.” We spent some time poking fun at the attitude that I supposedly had as a toddler (my family attributes this to the attention that comes with being the first grandchild) while I glanced through the rest of the photos. I eventually placed my “disaster” photo on top of the pile and pushed the small stack of pictures to the side of my desk.
While I haven’t looked through that stack of photos again anytime in the past five days, I have glanced at the photo on the top of the pile and laughed to myself more than a few times. After all, it really does make me look like a little disaster of a toddler. But yesterday, I caught myself wondering exactly what I had meant by the caption that I chose to attach to the photo when sharing it. Why did I feel the need to describe my life as a disaster? Was I just making a joke or was there something more to it? What was it about the mess in the picture that I instantly connected to my life at this moment?
Well, I immediately began pointing to aspects of my life that would help to explain this comment away – unpaid debt, a year of unemployment, complicated relationships, my willingness to change career paths every three days – and I thought I had justified my original comment. But then I began prodding beyond the surface of these explanations and challenged myself to be a little more honest about my feelings. And as it turns out, when I stopped hiding behind some imaginary construct that was telling me that life is supposed to be perfect and worry-free, I actually couldn’t come up with any valid reasons to call my life a disaster. All of the things that I had originally identified as difficult aspects of my life certainly don’t make me a disaster. They simply make me human.
And here’s the thing about being human…
It’s not easy.
Love. Relationships. Money. Careers. These things are hard. Really, really hard. And there is no rule book designed to help us out along the way. So we learn our lessons by trying and failing, hurting and being hurt, falling down and doing our best to get back up. Life is messy, but it is meant to be that way. So instead of feeling the need to qualify away the difficult stuff with silly captions, perhaps we should spend some time knee-deep in the messes that make up our lives each day and recognize that we have a lot to learn from them.
The things that challenge us are not peripheral to our lives. They are part of our lives. And there is a lot to be learned from letting ourselves be okay with those feelings of disaster sometimes. It may be easier to focus only on making the difficult stuff disappear, but I also believe that it is important to consider the deeper meaning of the feelings that keep us up at night, make our eyes water in the middle of a crowded subway, or make us want to take a deep breath and scream at the top of our lungs. Because treating all of the messy things in life as obstacles that we simply need to push through in order to start really living only serves to undermine the fact that we are all imperfect humans just trying to find our way.
There may not be an easy answer to the many “disasters” that we all face each day, but perhaps a small part of finding our way involves looking around at the important people in our lives and making a small promise to be imperfectly human together. And whether that means watching a toddler spill a bowl of peanuts across the living room floor or struggling together through moments of difficult and honest emotions, I think that can be a pretty beautiful thing.