Life is Messy

Sarla’s birthday was July 28th. She would have been 70. She was prone to offering random commentaries, one of which was that “life is messy.” Though I didn’t always agree with her, and “life is messy” isn’t her originally coined phrase, her assertion proved true. She wasn’t one for keeping things buttoned down and calm. She could get loud while licking her wounds, those of an adult from a broken family of origin. She stirred the pot, advocating for her non-traditional point of view. I was never lacking for someone to bump up against. 

Grief is messy. If the griever sobs, the milk that person poured on cereal is apt to flow out of their nose. My grief in relationship to Sarla’s death has been delayed and complex. In my recent dreams Sarla appears consistently radiant and calm. I can relate to the radiant part because it’s a throwback to before cancer began tearing her body down. But the steady, peaceful part is inconsistent with the person I knew. She broke more rules than she abided. Sarla’s challenges were messy, especially when her illness began to rule the roost.

I love my dog, Lola, but she’s messy. She has dirt magnets in her paws. Every grain of sand and dirt on the ground at campsites where she steps sticks to her paws and makes its way into our rig. A whisk broom and hand vacuum cleaner are tools of the trade without which I’d be up to my ankles in decomposed granules of organic matter. Three days ago I camped next to a couple with three dogs in a motorhome that’s the same size as mine. One was the sweetest and most handsome border collie ever, but his shedding coat adds to the pile of debris that his keepers get to remove from all of the rig surfaces on which their dogs are allowed. I sensed relief that I only have one golden doodle who doesn’t shed. To their credit, the owners of the 3 dog pack had a nonchalant attitude about traveling with their canine brood. They rolled with the mess.

Emotions are messy. Though treated as opposites, laughter and crying come from the same emotional center. Both are releases. You can laugh so hard that it’ll make you cry. In “The Other Side of Town,” John Prine wrote, “A clown puts his makeup on upside down, so he wears a smile even when he wears a frown.” Robin Williams, without whom the world would have smiled and laughed less, was besieged by internal difficulties beneath the surface of his brilliant humor. He drew an extraordinary following. I count myself among his admirers. The astonishment and hilarity that I felt for his artistry was equalled by the pain and sadness I felt when his life ended so abruptly. Life is messy.

I’m in a beautiful spot 14 miles north of Bayfield, Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Superior. Last night’s rain makes today’s air quality even better. While composing this missive, I observed a man walking his dog in the spectacular, cool morning air. The man’s gait was compromised by what might have been a degenerative muscle disease or an accident that screwed up his carriage. I’m grateful that my legs work, that my skeleton isn’t in disrepair. Though I was taught not to stare when I was young, not looking away is equally important. Life is messy.

A lesson I learned from being a retailer and then working in commercial real estate was that a busy street corner with a traffic signal was prime retail real estate. As a result, I chose the corner of Poplar and Evergreen in Memphis for a location in 1988 for my business, Squash Blossom Market. The trash in my parking lot was relentless, precisely because I was on a prime street corner with a traffic signal, a perfect locale for disposition of assorted objects while awaiting the change of the signal from red to green. During my outside clean up each morning, I cursed the sons-of-bitches who littered my property until one day I realized that my ire was neither going to stop the litter nor help me feel better. It dawned on me that I could bless the unfortunate people who didn’t know better than to throw their fast food wrappers onto my pavement. Life is messy but a blessed son-of-a-bitch is better than a cursed one. 

If you still think that life is tidy, then love someone, get a dog, adore artists until they die, laugh so hard that you cry, observe the afflicted, and bless the person who litters while you pick up their trash. 


Published by jmlewisjr

Hello. This is Jimmy Lewis. I'm in Memphis, Tennessee. My golden doodle, Lola and I are leaving on a North American tour in May, 2021. We'll be traveling in a 2021 Jayco Melbourne 24L motorhome. We have neither time constraints nor exact destination specifications. We'll spend May in Virginia, North and South Carolina, and then head north through New York, Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont. If Canadians resume the practice of putting out a welcome mat for Americans, then we'll cross the border.  The seed for this journey began after my wife, Sarla passed away in May, 2020. Sarla was a yogi. An early yoga teacher of hers implored her to "Have what you need, and use what you have." As I prepare to close on the sale of our home on April 30, 2021, I'm deciding what I need based on the likelihood of using what I have. I give some things away without a flicker of feeling. When more meaningful items like the piano I inherited from my parents leave the premises, I feel like I'm saying goodbye to an old friend for the last time. Sarla's death lessened my attachment to the home we had enjoyed for 15 years and life as I knew it. I didn't need and couldn't possibly use a house that could satisfy the needs of a family with four children. I'll no longer experience residence, a concept identified with staying in a specified place, as I've heretofore known it. Life will never be the same, nor do I want to attempt to shape my future into a likeness of what I once knew.   I've set my sights on adventure. I want to be challenged by not knowing who or what I'll meet on the road. The outdoors is one of my default antidotes for stress. Other than my rig, I won't have an indoors base. Whereas others might opt to downsize so that they have the stability of a landing spot, I won't be able to go "home" as I've known it. I'm jazzed about the prospect of being at the whim of the muse, to go where my finger lands on turning pages of the Rand McNally atlas. My dog, Lola is indifferent even though I've been talking to her about the journey every day. She looks quizzically at me when I enthusiastically say we're hitting the road together. I'm confident that she'll do well. We've previously driven together to and from a destination 12 hours from home. She curiously gazed out the window and occasionally snoozed in the passenger seat. She didn't express displeasure about the podcasts and music selection that I chose to entertain and inform me while driving. This trip isn't driven by personal goals. Will I learn more about myself? Will I take advantage of the opportunity to reflect? Will I be lonely? Will I be uneasy? I'm motivated by a curiosity to follow the questions.

3 thoughts on “Life is Messy

  1. Jimmy, this post made my eyes water a little. Indeed, life is messy. I continue to try to embrace the mess. My mess. I make it. It makes me. When I choose to surrender to it, life seems to harmonize with my choice. And when I fight…what a fuckin mess.


  2. Life is messy!

    Based on your post today, I will try to bless the people who don’t pick up after their dogs as they walk through the neighborhood. Based on my observations, these folks are typically over 60, not homeless, and appear to live very prosperous lives.

    As a result, I feel anger when I see the evidence their dogs inevitably leave behind while these folks seem to be totally oblivious to their basic responsibility for cleaning up after their dogs deposit poop.

    I know this is not a major encroachment on anyone’s rights and my attitude is very petty…and yet to see people who live very privileged lives routinely act with such entitlement drives me a little nuts.

    So today, I’ll bless them and seek to understand rather than curse their behavior. It will be a challenge! 😎🙏


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