The End of the Story

I’ve shared before on this blog that one of my greatest, most important beliefs is that everything turns out okay in the end. The struggle may be long and tough, but you’ll come out on the other side a better person, and your reward will be happiness. For me, that has always meant that somewhere, somewhen, I will finally feel at home and at peace with where I am and who I’m with.

I’ve always felt this way: I remember in 9th grade English class, when we would read short stories that ended abruptly with no resolution whatsoever, and I would say that the stories were garbage. My teacher wisely observed that maybe my problem with the story wasn’t that it was bad, but that it didn’t have a perfect storybook ending. He thought that maybe I would understand when I got older. What is it with teachers and always knowing more than we do?

Lately I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot, that everything always works out in the end. I recently watched Boyhood, an incredibly interesting and innovative film that came out in 2014. Boyhood chronicles the life of a boy, but also the life of his mother as he’s growing up. Mom marries and divorces and remarries and gets a job, and then remarries again, and every time the guys are jerks. At the end of the movie as the boy is going off to college, Mom says plainly that this is the worst day of her life- that from here on out, she’s basically just going to get old and die. The boy eventually realizes that his mom is just confused about life in her forties as he is as a young adult.

We have this dominant narrative: go to school, go to college, get a degree, find somebody who makes you happy, settle down, have a career, have a family, the end. But the older I get, the more I realize that this isn’t necessarily how it works out for everybody. And even if that is the story, there’s actually more. You actually do things as an adult other than raising kids- and you’d better, otherwise when they leave your life is going to be a mess.

But what I’m realizing is more than the idea that life isn’t linear. Not everything turns out okay. I just finished a book called Commencement, which tells the story of four Smith grads and their lives before, during, and after college. Throughout the course of the story, each girl undergoes tragedy: death of a parent, sexual abuse, estrangement from family… one of them is even believed to be murdered. The book was a gripping read, but I was surprised by the end. I won’t give anything away, but essentially nothing is resolved. The one who has always wanted to be a writer but never had the guts still isn’t writing. The one who couldn’t be honest with her family about the relationship she’s in still doesn’t know what to do. The murder thing gets figured out, but all of the issues surrounding it don’t. And yet, the book ends. It’s not like the series finale of some television show in which everything miraculously gets wrapped up and each character finds exactly what he or she needs to be happy in life.

So why does the book end before everything is fixed?

That’s the big question. I’m still coming to terms with it: not every story has a happy ending. Not everyone gets to have it figured out. Why do some people get to settle and for some people, the story never ends? Maybe it doesn’t depend on the kind of story, but instead on the kind of person you are. Maybe if you’re someone who’s naturally happy and naturally feels settled anywhere, you’ll get that storybook ending. But plenty of people are always searching for something, and maybe the searching is more important than what they actually find. The process of exploring and learning and becoming more than you were before can’t possibly just stop when somebody or someplace new comes into your life.

For my entire life, when someone has asked what my biggest goal in life is, I have said that I want to find my soul mate. I’m starting to realize that maybe this isn’t the right goal, not because there’s not a good match for me out there, but maybe because my soul mate- the thing that literally matches my soul- is the act of searching. Searching for more knowledge, more people, more challenges, more new experiences so that I can constantly be growing. A great match for me will be a person who loves to do those things too, or maybe someone who balances me out. But I’m coming to terms with the idea that maybe I won’t ever feel like my story has come to a close, because that’s not my personality.

Saying that everything turns out okay in the end necessitates an end. And maybe there doesn’t ever have to be an end. Maybe the story just gets to keep going. And that’s perfectly okay for me.

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