• Thu, Sep 1 2011

Living Nonfictionally: There Are No Endings

Quick– name something all stories have that life never has: An ending!

Well sure, we die. But life goes on for all the people who don’t die that day.

We have rites of passage, events that mark the transition from one stage to another: bar/bat mitzvahs and confirmations, quinceaneras and Sweet 16′s, graduations and weddings. But life goes on after these events, without even a summer hiatus.

No matter what happens in our lives, the world goes on turning relentlessly.

As I write this, I’m preparing to evacuate for the weekend due to Hurricane Irene. Some of my coworkers felt tremors from the recent earthquake, and more earthquakes are popping up in Colorado and Peru. The part of my brain that’s still fixated on making life into a gripping narrative wonders if this is The End, the Apocalypse. The rest of me holds that it’s safer to say it’s not, because if it is the Apocalypse, the people who are right won’t be around to gloat. Plus, “I thought that maybe that Nic Cage movie was happening” isn’t a good reason to not grade my English students’ chapter tests.

In any case, barring a hypothetical Apocalypse, there are no endings. Only transitions.

I have a friend who refers to certain momentous occasions as “Season Finales.” She does not, however, stop everything she’s doing after the Season Finales.

Most people don’t want to come to a complete halt, but many people do labor under the impression that they will someday reach a point at which struggle will cease.

When I was in high school, my livejournal friends page (remember those?) was filled with repetitions of the plaintive query: “When will I be happy?”

Well, if by “happy” one means “experiencing continual pleasant emotions,” the answer is “never.” This Cracked article explains in greater detail why the feeling we call “happiness” isn’t something that can last or is meant to last. Furthermore, the idea of happiness as a goal is self-defeating. The more one worries about being happy, the less happy one will feel. [Note: if you're clinically depressed, I'm not saying you shouldn't want to stop feeling miserable all the time. That's something else entirely.]

“Life has no happy endings” is an oft-repeated truism, but it bears repeating. I have often caught myself thinking, “If I can just make it through X, then I’ll be OK.” As though new problems don’t always arise. Even when we get what we want, as this other Cracked article points out, life goes on and upsetting things will continue to happen.

The thing is, new problems are fine. As long as those problems aren’t devastating, they’re what keep us going. They’re what make us want to go forth, create and contribute. Without the minor difficulties that make up our day-to-day lives, we’d stagnate.

If, after graduation, we all got easy jobs that never caused us stress and we stayed in those jobs until retirement, we’d die of boredom long before sixty-five. If, after the wedding, our relationships stayed in a state of perpetual effortless pleasantness, we’d probably all divorce after two months. Endings don’t happen because we keep living, and even when we stop living, other people keep on keeping on.

With all that said, I hesitate to call this piece the end of the Living Nonfictionally series. Instead I’ll say “Good-bye for now.”

Good-bye for now!

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  • matbp

    And that’s all… for now.