My eighth grader left for her school’s Washington DC trip. When I dropped her off at the airport another mom looked at me and said,
“OMG! I am a mess! What am I going to do when she (her daughter) goes to college?”
I smiled because I, too, was a mess. My youngest, who was in the car, thought it was hilarious that all the moms were falling apart. I found myself crying and laughing at the same time.
Life is messy.
This is a fact.
Things are hard. Things are complicated and overwhelming. The goal is not to make it neat or un-messy, but to learn how to live in the mess with grace, compassion and a bit of humor, if possible.
When performing “Flowers Aren’t Enough” at the Pitchess Detention Center in California for a group of men who were incarcerated for domestic violence offences, an inmate commented that what struck him in a profound way about the show wasn’t the fact that the man beat the woman.
“I did that and that’s why I am doing time,” he said.
“I saw her face (the woman I portrayed in the play) when her husband told her she could not open that flower shop. He sucked the hope out of her, and that is what I did to my wife. That is so much worse than anything physical I ever did to her,“ he added.
Then this 6’4” man started to cry, actually sob. It was incredibly touching.
I, too, stared crying.
There we were, 200 inmates and me crying like silly people. The warden, who also was a bit emotional, stood up and said, “Okay, People. I’m gonna go get the buckets. Come on. Pull yourselves together. This is a mess!”
The 6’4” sobbing man smiled and yelled back,
“Dude, life is a mess. Let it go. This is a good mess.”
Life is messy.
It is a mess.
You take a wrong turn.
You do something stupid.
It is a mess.
You make a bad choice.
Something that you had no control over happens.
It is a mess.
We cannot control the mess.
We can only learn how to live in it, with it.
One of my girls in the incarceration facility found out her brother had been killed in a gang shooting. She didn’t want to come to class.
This girl was amazing. She sang, danced and was open to learn.
“She isn’t feeling it,” her friend told me.
“That’s okay,” I said. “She should come anyway.”
“She is a hot, fucking mess,” the friend added.
“That is okay,” I say. “She should come because she is a mess.”
“Ms.” The friend looked at me and then looked away.
I think she felt bad about saying what she was about to say.
“No offence, Ms.” She then looked at me and continued,
“All due respect, you are nice as shit, but this is hood mess, ugly, fucked up, really, really messed up mess. I don’t think you can help her right now.”
I was quiet.
I looked at her.
The streets have made these girls unbearably pessimistic and they don’t think anyone, even me, can help them.
“You’re right. I don’t know a lot about your mess or her mess.
But, believe me, I have messes of my own,” I told her.
“I don’t want to try to help her or clean up the mess she is sitting in right now. I want to sit with her. I want her to come and be here, because no matter how bad the mess is, sometimes you just need to let people in. Would you please, please go tell her I want her to come to class?”
They walked in together. The girl whose brother was shot was so grief stricken it hit me in my gut.
“Don’t talk,” she said to me.
“Okay,” I answer.
“Want to play?” I asked.
“Okay,” she says.
“You have the wheel?” she asks.
“Just fun. No deep shit, Ms.,” she says.
“Okay,” I say. “Just fun.”
I teach communications skills through drama games.
Every once in a while, we play really basic, fun, drama games. My students think those games have “no meaning,” just fun, but, oh how they are wrong.
The steering wheel is for a game called TAXI.
One kid sits in a chair with the steering wheel.
And in back sits a different kid. The driver has to guess by asking questions who is in the back seat. This girl loved this game and guessed on the button every time.
We played the game for the entire class.
We laughed a lot.
As she left, she waved and gave me a thumbs up.
I stopped breathing. Is this the best I can do I thought to myself?
Play drama games?
There must be something else I should be doing.
I felt empty and useless.
Her friend came over and gave me a hug,
“She hasn’t laughed since she heard about the shooting,” she said to me.
She must have sensed how bad I felt.
“You did good, Ms. It’s her mess. It’s the gang mess. It’s all one fucking mess.” She shrugged.
“I know,” I said.
“I wish it were less messy.”
I didn’t know what else to say.
“We know that,” she answered.
“We need to figure out together what to do,” I say.
She thought that was hilarious.
“Good luck with that one!” she said and walked away.
I remember for days thinking about what to do. What can I do?
It’s not about cleaning up the mess. Really, it’s about learning to how to function in the mess and move forward, and/or creating a system that prevents the mess to begin with.
But most of all, simply accepting the mess, because life, love, and relationships always get messy, and that, well, that is okay.