The Meaning Is in the Mess

Wendy Cohan
5 min readNov 2, 2021

“I … hope that there is meaning in mess and pain, that more will be revealed, and that truth and beauty will somehow win out in the end.” — Anne Lamott

Photo by Eastman Childs on Unsplash

Life is messy, sometimes unbelievably messy. What enables us to survive, more or less intact? Connecting with friends who will laugh with us and have our backs when we need them most.

When your dog miraculously poops into the furnace duct with enough volume and liquidity to extinguish the pilot light, and your friend’s partner has to crawl under the house in the middle of the night to turn off the gas, she will text you, “Lol…shit happens.” And offer to dog-sit, again.

When you’re invited to Thanksgiving dinner at the home of a friend of a friend, your host’s date will, of course, be the man you’ve been chatting with nightly on Ok Cupid. With a wink of recognition, neither of you will mention it — but your friend will join you in cringing when your host sits on Ok Cupid’s lap and whispers sweet nothings into his ear. In that moment your friend’s leg nudge will mean everything — and you will only make it through dinner because she’s sharing the bench seat and you know you’ll both laugh about it on the way home.

In your youth, clueless older men will hit on you with regularity, while the young men you really like will come in too hot and repel you. Danger, Will Robinson. The quiet, respectful man you found a bit dull will turn out to be the one who got away, and you will think of him often. For years — every time you see a kayak. The worst one of all, the one you really fell for, turned out to be living a double life and is now married and lives in Seattle. This doesn’t seem a very fitting end — especially when, given more ethical choices, the two of you could instead be circling the globe on a small sailboat. Happy hour on the deck at four o’clock, manta rays leaping into the air, blue water sparkling.

Your ex will tell you things about his new wife that you wish you didn’t know — but are keeping in reserve in case she says something catty about you while you’re hiding in the bathroom stall at your son’s wedding, and you need a really good comeback. But, because life is messy and unpredictable, wife number two will turn out to be the nicest, most interesting person at the wedding, and everyone will have a great time.

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Wendy Cohan

Author of character-driven women's fiction, short stories, and essays. Her contemporary romance, The Renaissance Sisters, debuted May 23, 2023.