Monday, September 2, 2013

How to Wait for the End



Whether in books, movies, or plays, endings are always difficult to wait for; however, the hope of a satisfying conclusion will keep us holding on through the dark moments, because in our hearts, we feel assured that all of the angst will be worthwhile if only we can see it through to the promise of that last scene. 

Such hopes have kept us wading through books that have broken our hearts, have kept us holding on to a beloved television series long after it went into its final throes of awfulness, and have kept us from walking out of movie theaters after a disheartening plot twist nearly melted our brains.

Our dependence on a good end is so great that a dissatisfying conclusion (or worst of all, no conclusion) will make or break our relationship with a story forever. Witness my near breakup with Charles Dickens over the various endings of Great Expectations and my meltdown of galactic proportions over Connie Willis's brain-bending, heart-rending Passage.

The salient point is that without a happy end -- or at the very least, a satisfying end -- we tend to question the worthiness of the story itself. 

Although we may not have given this idea conscious consideration, the same principle holds true in life as it does in story: when certain aspects of our lives have lacked closure or led to dissatisfying conclusions, we tend to feel somewhat at a loss. 

Betrayed. 

Cheated out of our time and devoid of a sense of purpose.

If you've experienced such a disheartening turn of events, take courage. There is hope.

Remember that the ultimate end is still on the way, and you need to wait for it.

How to Wait for the End:

1. Endure the passage of time. As much as I hate to harp on the cliched idea that time heals all wounds, remember that the cliche developed for a reason: it generally holds true. 

Think of the greatest stories you've ever experienced -- the ones you felt so deeply that they've nearly become part of you. Think of what made those stories so vivid - so epic. Epic romances are generally considered epic by nature of the sheer amount of time that the lovers spend apart. Epic struggles of good and evil aren't won in a day. Epic victories aren't achieved without great loss.

The key difference between art and life, of course, is that the struggles, the pains, the tragedies, and the turmoils of life can't be zipped through within the same amount of time it takes to read a few chapters of a book or watch a few scenes of a film. 

For us, these trials must be lived through hour by hour, moment by moment, and second by second... until the resolution comes. 

Even though we hate the process, we must remember that without the passage of time, closure is often not possible. 

So don't rush the end. 

Be patient and endure.

2. Remember that whether or not the ending is a happy or a sad one depends on where you place the ending.

I read once somewhere that most of Shakespeare's comedies end with a wedding while many of his tragedies begin with one. 

Although any person with half a brain knows that the "Happily Ever After" concept is myth, in our media-obsessed culture that gluts itself on on entertainment, we are constantly in danger of losing sight of the overarching narratives of our lives. 

Take one aspect of my life as an example:

If my teaching career were to be retold on the big screen, then where the film ended would determine the overall takeaway. If the the script were to cover only the ups and downs of my first year in the classroom, the story would actually end on a dark note: by the end of that awful first year, I'd actually made the decision to quit teaching, had refused a contract with the school where I'd been teaching, and had moved across the state for a fresh start, hoping never to see the inside of a classroom again.

The story of how I was teaching again within months reads more like a comedy than anything else. At the time, though, I felt only tragedy. It's only now - as I put that pocket of time into context with everything that came after it - that I'm able to look back on it within a framework that makes sense.

It's this concept we need to cling to when we're enduring circumstances that are less than ideal.

At the risk of spoilers, allow me to remind you that Frodo's journey didn't end in Shelob's lair, that the curtain of WWII didn't fall during the London Blitz, and that the Gospels don't conclude with the Crucifixion. 

Those moments were black, but they weren't the end - they were the darkness before the dawn.

So. 

When you're ready to throw in the towel, remember VE Day.

When you're feel that you've reached a dissatisfying end, look for the ships to the Grey Havens.

And when you're waiting in dark, remember that you're awaiting the Resurrection. 


3 comments:

  1. Oh, lovely, Ruth, just lovely. Thanks.

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    1. Thanks. I may have to write a follow up, though, because I've already had somebody bring up the issue of what happens when we have situations for which there is literally no resolution. Those are the worst.

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