Embrace Life’s Mess

Let’s face it: sometimes life just gets messy. Situations don’t always lean in our favor, relationships fail, and tough decisions always need to be made. For me, it could be the impending doom of graduation and thoughts of “the future” or the inherent fears of beginning a new life in a new place, but it is valid to recognize the chaotic nature of our lives. The founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day, once remarked that the world she works in is really just a “haphazard, messy affair.” Nevertheless, she would always stress that while life can be disheartening and utterly insane, there is still a wonderful beauty that shines through, as long as one has the strength to pursue it and the eyes to see it.

I had the privilege to live in one of Day’s houses of hospitality this past summer. It was a regular night on the house shift. I had finished all of the chores, cleaned up the meal, begrudgingly took out the trash, fed the cats, and was just about to sit down to a steaming cup of tea and an hour of Law and Order, when a woman came knocking and asked if we had any food. The house policy was that dinner could only be served at dinnertime to house residents, but exceptions could always be made, so I told her “just this once.”

This supposedly one-time deal became a weekly, almost nightly occurrence, and she began to ask for more goods and services as the weeks went on. She eventually became standoffish and aggressive and after those in charge at the house banned her from the dining room, she took to calling us day after day and would say that, “you all hate poor people” or that “Jesus wouldn’t turn me away.” Each day became more draining than the last, and I began to wonder if the work that we were doing was worth anything. Life was messy, rules were haphazard, and I was utterly confused. However, Day also states in her book Loaves and Fishes, that the greatest challenge of the day is, “how to bring about a revolution of the heart,” or—in my interpretation—how to insert ourselves far enough into the fray and the mess to start to care enough to stand with those who are suffering. It is often then in those sacred moments when goodness can arise.

As I built relationships with the women who showed up on our doorstep every day this summer, I began to understand more about what Day meant. By placing ourselves directly into the chaotic mess that is life, we naturally gain a sense of the problematic and frustrating dimensions, but we also begin to see the inextricable link to the extreme joys and beauty of life. If we can find the courage to sit with the pain of others and of situations, perhaps we can find joy in doing that in itself. It is by acknowledging the chaos that we can hope to reach some peace or find the peace within it. So, embrace that mess. Embrace the chaos that is life. Find that balance of joy within, and one day maybe we can all bring about this revolution of heart that Day speaks of.

Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Staff

October 29, 2014