Thursday, September 15, 2005

The End. The Beginning. The Middle.

This is the problem with books and movies: they give us the illusion that life happens in compact, meaningful chunks, with an obvious beginning, middle, and end. Here's how I think it actually works in the "real world":

The End. Most of us slog through our day-to-day in a daze of metaphysical subconsciousness; by which I mean, we let our immediate worries, tasks, fears, and automatic emotional reactions flood the thought gates. This leaves only a very narrow space, somewhere smooshed flat up against one wall of the perception waiting room, for that entity sometimes called Consciousness, or The Observor, or that-part-of-you-that-is-greater-than-your-body-and-upbringing-and-cultural-delusions, to hang out. They say that meditation quiets the mind, effectively weeding out all those annoying flood thoughts so that we can stop living inside our crazy heads in the past or future, and start enjoying the present moment that is "reality". My point? Save for those special people who can sit still long enough to meditate (I, sadly, am not one of them. Yet.), or those even special-er people who had the good fortune to be reincarnated as the Dalai Lama each generation, most of us require a good kick in the head to jiggle the stupid mundanity out of our ears; and, for better or worse, this usually takes the physical experience form of an "End". An accident, a disappointment, a heartbreak, an illness, a never hear people say, "wow, after having an amazing time at the party last night, I really know what's important in life; I'm going to stop smoking, start exercising, and go visit my grandma in the nursing home to tell her how much I love her." But what *does* happen is that endings inevitably lead to new beginnings. So in my book, the real story always starts at The End.

The Beginning. Immediately after something ends, a new thing begins. Here's the tricky part, though: most of us think that what we want in life is an "end result", but if things continue to stay stuck, what we're probably dealing with is a different story that has to end before the new one, the one that will actually lead to our desired goal, can begin. The even trickier part, I've come to realize, is that (1) we humans aren't always very adept at figuring out how to end the old stories, because we hate saying goodbye to stuff, and (2) sometimes the ending that leads to the new beginning is quite painful, and at the time doesn't feel like it could possibly lead anywhere good. I think the key to getting through difficult endings is to get through them, find a way to ultimately cherish them, and stay open to the new beginning that may lead you in directions you never dreamed.

The Middle. After all is said and done, I like the idea of understanding life as a series of overlapping stories, each with a beginning, middle, and end. But since the good things in life happen, I propose, with the end first and then the beginning, it's up to us to craft each narrative back into its traditional story structure. That's called making sense of one's life, or meaning-making. There are infinite versions of each of these stories, so it's up to us to choose which ones we want to remember the strongest, and how we want to remember them--some people find ways to reinterpret disasters as having some benefit in jumpstarting broken patterns into a fresh start in the right direction. Others seem to remember even the happiest of times as the worst of times. And that, my friends, is the worst tragedy of all--as Aimee Mann sings--condemning the future to death so it can match the past.

That's all for now. An abstract and somewhat stream-of-consciousness commentary on the most recent endings in the last two weeks of my life: the hurricane, the sudden and incomprehensible death of the daughter of my mother's dear friend, and having to say goodbye to my two little patients on the psychiatry unit, in whose tragic lives I'd become perhaps a bit too emotionally invested.


At 11:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reminds me of a song line .. something about beginnings and ends..
wish i could remember how it goes..


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