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The Messy Middle


The Messy Middle. That’s what a very talented artist-friend of mine calls it. She explained that you start a painting with an idea in mind, and you finish the painting with either your initial intent or more likely one that has morphed as you moved through the process. But she went on to say that somewhere along the way you hit the messy middle. The part where you can’t see how it all began, and you’re not close enough to envision the ending. There you are: stuck in the messy middle.


I think this analogy is true of most things in life. Just like every diet I’ve ever been on. I start with the best intentions, so motivated, and I finish well as I close in on the deadline I’m shooting for. But that middle part gets me every time.


Imagine needing a fairly serious surgical procedure. Of course, there’s fear and anxiety, but there’s also determination, a “let’s-get-this-done-so-I-can-start-healing” attitude. And everything is fine. Surgery went well. Time to get on with the business at hand. And then there’s a complication, a set back. It’s not just our bodies that go through the trauma; it’s also our psyches. It’s enough to derail many, if not most of us. We’re in the thick of the messy middle.


Maybe this is much like what we’re experiencing with covid right now. Is that why this 4th wave seems to be making us a little crazy? Was it having the end in sight and suddenly we’re back in the middle?


The poet Ranier Maria Rilke talked about living the questions. He advised not to seek the answers; just live the questions. I think I’ve always taken this literally till my wise friend told me about the middle part. We are so focused on the end, the answers, the destination, that we forget to live NOW - especially when it’s not comfortable.


I was reminded of some advice I gave my daughter in high school. She had loaded her upcoming schedule with as many AP classes as possible. I knew what seemed like a good thing when she was at the beginning and full of motivation would turn into a nightmare midway through the term. So, although a little morbid, I asked her if something were to happen to her the day after graduation would she be able to say she had had fun, that she enjoyed her life?


That’s just it. We’re not guaranteed the end, the answers, the destination. We only have today - which could very well be the messy middle, the questions, the journey, so we’d better enjoy what we have.


Artist and writer Morgan Harper Nichols said, “Fall in love with the masterpiece, and also the paint on the floor.” They're all the same colors; it just depends on your perspective.





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