This week my friend Lea found herself packing up and leaving forever a place that she dearly loves. It has belonged to her family for over 40 years and has held, not just the funky, eclectic mixture of furniture that houses at the beach normally collect, but significant memories for four generations and more than a little piece of each of their hearts. Her last night there it was just Lea and a blow-up mattress and two lawn chairs. She wrote on her Facebook wall, “Feeling like Sam in the last episode of Cheers where he is the last person left, takes one last look around, then turns out the light, walks out and closes the door behind him.”
The next day she sent her friends an e-mail listing all the items that had been crammed into her car in the hours before vacating the premises. It was a long and impressive list and included, among things one would expect like clothes and work items, “five brooms ... two rolls of toilet paper ... 1 plastic box of paint brushes, 1 large plastic tub of craft paints, 3 large plastic shopping bags of craft supplies ... 1 big box of things I need in my car (sharpies, paper, tape, koosies, etc) ... 1 big metal tin of books and stuff I keep in my car always ... 1 iron to give away.”
One of her friends replied, “That is going to be a mess on the road if you have an accident.” All I could think was, “Lord, have mercy!”
It would be a mess if Lea’s car, like a defective pressure cooker, spontaneously erupted somewhere on Highway 17 spewing brooms and paintbrushes and small appliances all over the right-of-way. It would have been a bigger mess, however, had she not loaded that car, had she not taken one last look around, turned out the light, and closed the door behind her because this is what I have observed:
There is a point in every growing season at which the growing medium — field, garden, plot, pot — becomes messy. The rows lose their delineation, the individual plants lose their edges, and it becomes impossible to identify any point as the beginning or the end. It is in that moment that the farmer/gardener/tender of soil loses control of the structure, the aesthetics, and the end result.
Example: The cornfield outside my window is now beyond plowable, its edges crowded by a jumble of knee-high grasses and weeds and its canopy of wide green fronds woven together in uneven bands like the warp and weft of the potholders I used to make on a little red metal loom. Another example: The verbena at the corner of the house that started out as six little identical plants has morphed into wild and spindly vines spread all over the ground like fingerpaint — randomly, awkwardly, all over each other and the stone edgers meant to contain it.
I don’t like messy. I like neat and tidy. I like order and organization and anything alphabetized, and so it has taken some time for me to learn that messiness cannot be avoided if one wants to grow. Plant a seed and dirt will make its way under your fingernails, despite the gardening gloves. Write a story and the first draft will end up in a wadded up paper ball on the floor. Open your heart and take the risk that, like Lea’s car, a bump in the road or a crash into someone else could send everything inside flying out into the open sky.
It has taken time to learn those things, but I have learned them. I have learned them by planting the seed, writing the story, opening my heart and, consequently, scrubbing my fingernails, picking up the endless mounds of paper balls, and standing on the side of the road watching the wind from speeding traffic carelessly toss about that which I hold most precious.
The result is that I have grown. And I am still growing. And the messiness of that is something to embrace.