In medias res – “into the middle of things.”
Remember that from your high school English class? It’s a narrative technique that simply means a story begins in progress, right in the middle, and fills in the back story along the way. Stories that start in the middle appeal because they resemble life.
Maybe it’s my generation, or Western culture, or just human nature, but we seem to be obsessed with new beginnings and happy endings, and wearied and suspicious of the tedium and uncertainty of the long slog in the middle. Two years at the same job is considered a long time; the mid life crisis is a trope so tired it’s a cliché. My concern and question, for myself and for all of us is this: is our thirst for results and fulfillment feeding our disdain for the messy middle? What are we losing by discarding its value?
In the middle, we’re prone to wonder, “is this all there is?”, frantic for escape or another new beginning. Sometimes the answer is yes, at least for now. How quickly we forget what it took to get here. Whether we’re better off or not, on a hill or in the valley, whether we hope that the best is yet to come or fear it’s behind us – today is built on thousands of breaths, and dozens of conversations, sleepless nights, family dinners, disappointments, sweaty workouts, commutes, whispered prayers and grocery runs. God has sustained us, through nutrition and friendship and laughter and breath and work, and brought us here, to this moment, to this messy middle.
I used to worry a lot about how things might “pay off,” assessing new opportunities for what they would sow, how they might be a stepping stone. I still think this way under stress, when self doubt comes in waves and I grasp desperately for my worth in all the wrong places. But mostly, when I’m calm and quiet, when I’ve slept enough and had enough coffee, I know that most things pay off in unexpected ways. Or they don’t, but they still change me, which is perhaps the best pay off to be had.
I’m in the messy middle of a lot:
my marriage. of home decor. of laying perfectionism to rest. of writing. of many friendships. of life in charleston. of dog momming. of podcasting. of working with a partner. of learning how to market creative stuff. of finding my value in the right places. of learning to hold two contradictory (and possibly equally true) thoughts in my head at the same time.
I’m close to the beginning of some of those, and probably close to the end of others. But most? Most things in life I’m in the middle of a long middle. Even the ones that end with a bang or a whimper or a satisfying crunch don’t really end because the experience changes me, and there’s no going back.
Take heart; the middle isn’t an empty wasteland to hustle through, but the place to dig in, show up and grow. What might we find here, when the newness has worn off and there’s no end is in sight?
“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” T.S. Eliot