I was at a bible study this morning with an amazing group of supportive women. The topic today was dedicated time and space for prayer. Each woman at the table had a remarkable personal prayer life to share. One after another gave testimony about how they conversed with God. (Kid you not, a priest in traditional attire just walked past me at this Starbucks. What timing.) One woman asked an important question: Did these prayer journeys start with the pandemic, or do they go back before then? For many, they did start with the pandemic or due to traumatic events that happened due to covid, me included. Another woman commented on how we have all been affected deeply by events over the previous two years.
If covid didn't hit you directly, I would bet money your life still made a dramatic left turn in some way. Mine certainly did. I'm still in the middle of that turn wondering when it is going to come to an end. Not like that matters. As soon as this turn is complete, a sharp turn to the right will likely follow. I know that sounded pessimistic. It's not intended to be. In fact, I don't know that any of these turns can be called good or bad until I get to the end.
I really like the quote by John Lennon who said, "Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end." I wish I had shared that with the ladies today. That is so optimistic. Is it true? Hmmm....
Here is another quote that gives the power to the author. Orson Welles said in his screenplay The Big Brass Ring, "If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story." Wow. This is truth. Not just for authors.
It's cliche to say that we each write our own stories, that we can start a new chapter in our lives. Cliche is often derided as ineffectual cynicism. However, cliche is often born from truth.
We do each control our own narratives in one way or another. That is our personal power.
Maybe that's why I enjoy writing stories? I get to control a narrative somewhere. I get to determine the beginning, the middle, and the ending. When I start a story, I start off doing what I feel I can't do in my real life. I get to be in the driver's seat.
You know what? That isn't totally true either. At some point, if the story has any merit, even if only a little, the characters MUST come to life and take control of each of their individual stories. I can start the story. I can begin to navigate the middle. At some point the main character(s) must step forward and say to me, "Let me tell you what happened next." It's their story, not mine.
Do all the best stories end in happy endings? Well, that depends on how each of us defines happy. What does it mean to be happy? What does a happy ending look like? How do those definitions change as life changes?
Nonetheless, even though we don't have any control over the people and circumstances around us, we do have control over our own stories.
I still have the power to tell the characters where I am ending chapters and where I am writing the words "the end." They may be telling me their stories, but I am still the author who is making the choice to put this story out there (for judgment and criticism, often my own).
When ending a chapter in the middle of a book, I have different goals depending on where the story is going. Most of the time I want to end the chapter with a sense of anticipation, sometimes anxiety, for what's next. Sometimes I want to create a moment of peace. Sometimes I want to simply breakup a scene that is going on and on so I and the reader can each take a bathroom break. Sometimes I end a chapter to give the character a chance to breathe.
Have you ever ended a chapter in your life for one of those reasons or another reason altogether? I have. I once took a six week sabbatical from my life to go on an archaeological dig. One of the best things I ever did for myself. I came back renewed and a better member of my family because of the experience. It was a chapter break, not the end of the story. It was me taking a breath.
At that bible study today, a friend pulled me aside and asked me a question. She did not use these words at all; but, essentially, she asked me if I was at the end of a chapter or story in my life. She gleaned it from my writings and posts and activities. The answer is I think so. The problem with ending it is I am searching for the happy ending. It's there. I don't know if I have to create it or find it, but it's there. I don't know what it looks like yet.
A part of discovering this happy ending is determining where to write "the end." I can't do that until I define what kind of book this is. Is it one long epic journey? Is it a series of chapter books? Is it a short story? What kind of book is this that is coming to a close? Is it a romantic comedy? A tragedy? A sci-fi adventure? I choose. These are tough decisions.
One significant difference between real life and fiction: in real life a story doesn't just end like fiction. A made up novel ends. It stops. Even if there are subsequent books that pick up where the previous left off, that doesn't happen in real life. With us living, breathing, experiencing reality characters covered in flesh and blood, our stories cannot end without a subsequent, immediate beginning. "The end" has to be followed with an interesting first line that grabs our attention and inflates our own lungs. It doesn't have to start off happy, but it can end happy if that is where we decide to put "the end" in our own lives.
What does your story look like? What kind of book are you writing in your life?
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Thanks for reading!
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