Eternity. Forever. Always. Never.
As early as our first foray into the imagination, those words take a front seat. The timeless fairy tales our loved ones read to us, almost always end with “And they lived happily ever after…”
For eternity. Forever. Always.
The story must end, must have a conclusion. For children–humans–there must also be hope, love, laughter…promise…
What we don’t see or hear in those tales, however, is that the strife, the conflict that begins the story, will , if brought into reality, replay itself out, over and over and over, until the end of time, until the characters are dead. The discord will appear as different scenarios, effecting us in different ways. In real life, that truth is in direct conflict with our dreams, with our ideals, with the fairy tales we’ve adopted, the fables that will likely live on…forever.
Marriage has traditionally been one of those sacred forevers: ‘Til death us do part. In sickness and health. For better or worse. We, the Cinderellas, and our Prince Charmings, race down the aisle with love and laughter in our hearts, with hope and promise fueling our futures. And, just like in our magical stories, our modern day chariots whisk us off– hand in hand, with smiles on our faces and butterflies in our stomachs–to some place of enchantment.
And then, days, weeks, or months later, the myth ends. We become full-fledged adults, with adult responsibilities: bills that need paying, jobs that need attending, autos requiring oil changes, children who need diaper changings and nose wipings. And, often, we aren’t prepared for what ensues, for no amount of book knowledge can teach us. Each day, though much the same logistically, plays out differently. Unlike our legendary figures, we must be malleable, we must adapt, even after we’ve reached what we’ve been taught to be The End. The Happily Ever After. We say the I-dos. The baby is born. We obtain the job. We buy our first house.
When friction bursts through our blissful bubble, and our life seems to be running amok, we tend to cling to the fables, kicking and screaming to the very end of our discomfort. Children, especially, and many of us adults, often act out the fairy tale philosophy: You always hurt me. My pain will never go away. My heartache is going to last forever. And then there is the internal: I always cry when I’m upset. I’ll always be overweight. I’ll never be able to live down the embarrassment. My life is horrible. (Translation: My entire life. For eternity.) I am a failure. (Translation: In everything I do. Always have been. Forever will be.) And, now that Halloween has passed, there are those who will soon be saying, I hate Christmas. I always have. (Translation: and I always will.)
Christmas is my fondest holiday. I love (the next word I instinctively typed? Yes, you are right. Everything…) most everything about the season. But there are those who have lamented this holiday throughout the years, who have verbalized those two sentences above. I would surmise, however, that there was a time when each awaited Santa’s arrival with awe and anticipation, with hope and joy. And I have no doubt that something happened, a negative event that has attached itself to the month of December, maybe even to the holiday, itself.
Writing that last sentence brings to mind a family member whose son died on Thanksgiving Day. I love you. I promise that the heartache you feel on this early anniversary will not be with you forever…
Now that I stop and think about it, within my limited circle of family and friends, I know two people who lost sons on Thanksgiving Day… There are so many, many more… May each of you, known or unknown to me, remember the love, the mischievous smiles, the quirkiness of the personalities, the softness of your loved ones’ souls, and the abounding joys you experienced, during this holiday season…
My blog post, On Happiness, quoted a psychologist who said, “Happiness is fleeting.” It is interesting that, as cursory as joy seems to be, our suffering seems to be endless. It seems to bond to our being, clinging to us much the same way we cling to the fairy tale.
When my Prince Charming and I were in marriage counseling, one of the first things–and, ultimately, one of the most important–our mediator taught us was to purge infinite-esque words from our vocabulary. No more always-forever-never-everything-nothing. Such words are antagonistic and do nothing to promote peace within our internal or external relationships.
After my son died, I realized that my fairy tale was full of flaws. My happily ever after would never exist. My Mother’s Days would forever be tarnished. Even though I had returned to my carriage on time, my splendorous life had dissolved into a disastrous nightmare. Even so, I was determined that I would not spend forever mourning my son. I didn’t know what that meant, or how the scenes would play out in my life, but I had hope, and a belief that promise still existed.
When the pledge of my marriage’s fidelity ended in adultery, those thoughts and feelings played themselves out, again, simply with different words: I’ll never trust, again. Will I always be a fool?
Eventually, I realized how random loss is. I realized that everyone is subject to loss. I realized I could remember my son’s brief life with fondness. I realized I could celebrate Mother’s Day, even when it fell on the anniversary of my firstborn’s death. I realized that my circumstances had played out similarly, in countless lives before mine, and would so, in countless more lives to come. I realized that pain would not last forever. Reality set in.
There are two works of reality-based fiction that rank at the top of my list. Lolly Winston created Good Grief and Happiness Sold Separately with such authenticity I can hardly believe she has not personally experienced the losses of which she writes. The way in which she captivated such emotional truth, without first-hand knowledge, mesmerizes me. When I read her first novel, Good Grief, I found myself holding my breath as I neared the last one-hundred pages, the last fifty, the last thirty… How is she going to wrap this up? What is going to happen to Sophie?
I felt frustrated, a bit cheated, even, after I read the last word. How could she do this? That’s no way to end a story. There is no end. Lolly’s widow had not walked off into the sunset, hand-in-hand with a white knight. The story did not present any clear-cut closure for the main character. And, as I stewed, it dawned on me–we have come to expect the Hollywood ending, the Happily Ever After.
Lolly’s story, had captured loss and life in the rawest forms. At the conclusion, as the characters sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, Sophie is forced to remind an aging, forgetful woman, that her husband is not merely running late, and, no, he won’t be there in time for dessert, either. For she, too, is a widow. When the elder apologizes for her memory lapse, Sophie says, with a bit of a thankful heart that she can say the words, “It’s okay.”
It is okay. Not the loss, not our grief, not injustice nor the incomprehensible, but our ever after. Our ever after will be okay. If we write it into our own personal scripts, if we weave it into our own epic tales.
And, now that I’ve tried to convince you to reconstruct your notions about ever after, to remove the infinities and the everythings from your vocabulary, allow me to introduce the exceptions. For always, forever, everything and nothing do have a place in our lives. We will always find peace and joy if we choose it. We will forever be learning, if our minds are open to possibility and promise. We can turn every hurt into healing, and nothing is insurmountable, if we make it our mission, if we opt to give credence to life, to reality, if we choose to stretch our imaginations beyond The End…