Does it End Well? – The Good (of) Endings (part III)


“I can’t believe you would do such a thing!”

This is how one of my friends responded recently when I told her of my shocking habit of reading the last page of a fiction book before I read anything else.

I have received this reaction more than once when trying to explain my reasoning.  Typically, I am not given time to discuss that I will also often read the first couple pages as well because it is a sign of a trustworthy author if there is a sign of intentionally drawing threads that can be traced from the beginning of a work to its ending.  I try to explain to my friend that I believe the ending is so important that it should be able to “stand on its own two feet”.

Endings should be able to communicate the essence of the truth the story is meant to convey as well as something of the emotional / psychological atmosphere the author intended the reader to dwell in as the book closes.  Obviously, the ending cannot be a substitute for reading the book itself, and one cannot expect to be able to enter the ending scene with the same depth of understanding and pathos as someone who has taken the time and emotional energy to walk alongside the character throughout the length and breadth of the story.

I try to comfort my friend by saying that I don’t tend to “find out” any great spoilers to the story.  The great ‘reveals’ of most stories are not usually left for the final two pages of the story.  What I do find out that is helpful to me is a sense about whether the journey is worth taking.

Endings make or break a story for me.  If a story is riveting and the characters engaging and the dialogue brilliant, but yet it all fall flat in the end, I feel cheated. Wronged.  Just as in a dating relationship where we have invested deeply, the transgressions committed in the final pages are harder to forgive.  What I mean is that more often than not, I would rather not have taken the journey if it ends on a false or disappointing note that does not ring out true from the core of the story’s center.

I remember throwing a book across the room one time because I was not adequately prepared for the death of the main character on the final pages of the book (thankfully in that case, the book was the first in a series and that scene was actually a bridge scene to the next book and not the actual “ending” of the story).

I am not saying that everything in the ending needs to end “happily ever after”, but that the ending the author chooses for their story is revealing about their original intentions in writing the story in the first place.  It is in the ending that you catch a glimpse of the foundational beliefs and assumptions about the nature of things upon which the story is built.

This is because the endings of things – whether it is a story or a career or a person’s life is aways a book of “revelation”.  The ending is the point of unveiling of hidden things.  As I said earlier, I only allow myself to read the last page or so because I know that if I read much more of the final chapter, I will probably find out “too much”.  In reading the last few pages of a book, the deeper question I am trying to answer is whether I can trust the author to speak truth.  Endings are essentially about truth.  It is the place of final judgment.  Do all the pieces fit together to accomplish their purpose?  Does the story’s ending effectively invite true reflection, offer a living hope, present a genuine challenge?

In life I struggle with how to step forward with confidence into the unknown not knowing the ending I am walking towards.   We don’t have the luxury of reading “the ending” first to see how our own story will finish.  This often causes me a great deal of consternation since I am a “big-picture” person and delight in seeing how each step and event has a part to play in the final masterpiece.

This is one reason I enjoy cross stitch so much.  It is a simple, patient craft in which you are constantly referring back to the “big picture” pattern as you create on a blank canvas.  Each stitch is a step toward the whole picture coming into view.  Since I can see the project from the creator’s stand point, I can be at rest.  I already see how each thread will contribute to the greater design and am secure in knowledge that I know exactly how the picture will eventually look when it is finished.  As you can see, I am not a great fan of the suspense / thriller genre.

But when it comes to grappling with endings in my own life, I realize how messy endings can be.  They come in many forms and rarely have a crisp boundary around them.  I cannot predict when or where the next one will show up.  Endings in life often surprise us – even when we can see them coming from a long way off.  They startle us with their presence and sometimes sadden us with their revelations.  The perennial question I want to bring to all the potential stories I read or watch is “does it end well?”

With the endings I face in life though, I have no measuring stick for judging what is a “good ending” look like?  As I start to let go of my obsessive need-to-know-how-the-story-ends-before-I-begin-the-journey, I hear the deeper question that concerns me continue to reverberate.  Is there a trustworthy storyteller?  If I cannot know the ending of the story, I want to know well the author of that ending.  And then I am content to step out into the journey awaiting me by faith…

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