I used to think everything in life (at least my life) should be flawless. I’m not sure where I learned that, most likely it was my own interpretation from a combination of things learned at church, home, and school.
In everything I did, I expected perfectionism, from perfectly folded hand towels, to clothing sorted by style and color. Even my spices were neatly aligned in my drawer, alphabetized, of course. My life was, at least in my eyes, held together in a tidy little box.
But somewhere along the way, life got messy, long after I reached adulthood, and many, many years beyond my first days as a perfectionist.
Take a trip with me, back in time to a little girl’s room:
A young girl sits in the middle of her bedroom, long dark hair cascading down her stiff, straight back. Her legs are spread on the floor in front of her hair, hands clasped tight, a book between her thighs, a notebook and pencil to her right.
The girl is reading. You see her pick up her bookmark, place it between two pages, and close the book. As she reaches for her pencil and jots something on her tablet, you stand on your tiptoes and peer over her shoulder.
She has written a list of numbers, one for each line, filling the sheet of paper. On the first line, next to number one, she writes something. You peek at her tablet.
“Get up.” ‘That’s odd. What does that mean?’ you wonder.
She begins to write on the second line, then scribbles her pencil quickly across the paper. “Shoot!” you hear her say. Before you can read her note, she has ripped it out of the tablet, crumbled it, and is across the room throwing it in the metal garbage can.
Folding her legs back beneath her, she begins her list again, the numbers written with more care and precision than the first time. At number two, she writes, ‘Brush teeth.’ The routine continues until each line is filled. And each time she doesn’t see the list as perfect, she rips the page out, throws it away, and begins again.
The girl doesn’t appear to be agitated. In fact, she hums and smiles, and occasionally turns to the book to read a few pages. She looks happy, twisting her hair between her fingers, and tapping her foot quickly against the floor. But how happy is she, really?
The girl was me. I’m sure there’s some psychology behind my story, but this isn’t about that, and for now, I’d really rather that portion of my story remain a mystery.
What this story is about is this: Life is messy. No matter what we do, we have to scribble pieces of our lives away and start over. Sometimes it’s as simple as a cabinet whose contents have been scattered across a floor by an adventurous two-year-old. Sometimes it’s an event that doesn’t go as planned – a failed cake, or balloons that blow away in the wind before the recipient has a chance to see them. And sometimes, it’s an accident that nearly takes our breath away.
But here’s the thing, I think life is supposed to be messy. It’s in those messy moments, when our world gets flipped upside down, that we can see clearly. Life is a balance of perfect and imperfect harmony, and we are in the middle.
We strive to do our best, perfecting hair and nails, cleansing our home inside and out. Yet life arrives and takes apart the very piece we admired the most. For me, that was everything.
Like I said, I wanted my whole world perfect, and my accident took it all away. But I think when I learned to embrace the messiness that life can throw, the untidiness and unruliness of it all, that’s when I began to heal.
I will always be a bit of neat freak. It’s in my blood. But I’m really trying to step outside of my neat little box, and be a part of this glorious, messy thing we call life.