The Magic of the Mess

The Magic of the Mess

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

The Magic of the Mess

The woman who bore me is no longer alive, but I seem to be her daughter in increasingly profound ways.
~Johnnetta Betsch Cole

After my mother died, I kept one of her treasures: A pale gray, marble-like paperweight that proclaimed in shiny black letters, “Lord, Bless This Mess.” This item represented a mysterious notion about my mother. What, precisely, I couldn’t place at the time.

I didn’t know the story behind my mother’s acquisition of the paperweight, but I could imagine her reaction when she first saw it. With an impish look she would have said, “Oh, that’s what I need!” Then she would have burst into giggles.

For all the years I can remember, the paperweight graced the mammoth wood desk in the corner of the dining room of the house where I grew up in Kansas. Occasionally, one of my parents moved it from one spot to another, but it remained prominently displayed on the desk’s surface. Sometimes my mother sipped iced coffee from a colorful tumbler while she sat at the desk. She did bookkeeping for my dad’s company or executed personal business. At her fingertips she had her adding machine, her Rolodex, and her supplies.

The top of the desk strewn with ledgers, stacks of papers, and miscellaneous objects looked chaotic, but Mom had the key. She knew the order of the disorder. Usually. Blessing the mess must have been her secret, because orderly mayhem worked. Things got done. Letters sent. Expenses logged. Bills paid. Decisions made. Occasionally, when an item escaped her, she methodically lifted each neatly placed stack and searched through it until she found what she needed. The delay didn’t faze her. She plodded ahead with a formidable faith that the item would turn up.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, here it is!” she’d proclaim with glee when she discovered the errant object. Then, she’d return to her task until she smelled aromas from the kitchen reminding her to stop to wrap up supper. At other times, the stove alarm buzzed, signaling her to leave the desk to finish the laundry or to tackle gardening chores.

Now, as an early retiree and a writer, I preside over an unruly landscape where chaos has grown roots. Deep, tangled roots. I’ve straightened piles and tried organizational tricks, yet I wallow in the midst of every writer’s nightmare: Messy stacks, piled-high tables and crammed bookcases.

Undeterred, I reinvent my situation with a different slant. I envision the daunting disorder as my mess of blessings. The gems that drive my writing to new levels hide within the disorder. When I doubt my direction, I caress the infamous “Lord, Bless This Mess” paperweight, willing its magic to rub off on me. I think: “What worked for my mom can work for me, too.”

I press on as I remember my mother’s faith, her mysterious magic touch that worked wonders on her messy desk. “I know it’s here somewhere,” I say.

I search, buoyed by the thrill of a treasure hunt. With a loving eye, I rifle through the piles of writing notebooks, journals, drafts, scraps of paper with jotted lists, scribbled quotes, notes on observed scenes, and accrued clippings. I tenderly lift my books of inspiration and writing craft, then leaf through them, letting their wisdom flow through me. I putter with my stash of keepsakes or monkey with my mountains of photos. At some point on the hunt I find it—the word, the image, the object, or the memory that had stirred me to put words on the page. My voice speaks up once again.

“Here it is!”

Sometimes I catch myself imitating my mother when I preface my proclamation with “Oh, for heaven’s sake!”

Like her, an ordinary object’s simple message grounds me. “Lord, Bless this Mess!”

The gem, the blessing found, portrays the deep untamed edge of life that, once named, captures the reader’s heart. The once chaotic mass of words spins into a recognizable shape to ignite interest and harness hope for life understood.

Without mess there would be no order, no new way of viewing life. Embracing the chaos—digging into the swirling mess—sparks a change in viewpoint, a fresh description, a tidbit of untarnished truth.

Thanks to my mother and her magic, embodied in her paperweight, I’ve learned to accept what is, including the mess that textures my environment. Claiming my mess and blessing it moves me forward into the world of wayward words and crafty characters frolicking on the page that, once befriended, lead the way.

My mother’s magic still works wonders and I’m grateful. I’ve gained perspective and staying power from her premise that life pans out, one way or another.

~Ronda Armstrong

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