Whether stories are told on page or on screen, there is one rule that is universal: nothing matters quite as much as the ending.
Sure, first impressions are important, but the ending is, literally, the final word.
We have all read or watched that story, where we riveted until the very end, only to leave the movie theater or close the book with a feeling of immense disappointment.
We say things like, “What kind of ending was that?” or “It would’ve been better if….”
A bad ending is like opening a Christmas present only to find socks.
Orson Scott Card probably summarized this concept best when he said, “The opposite of the happy ending is actually the unsatisfying ending.”
With the new year in mind, I can’t help but look back at the past year and wonder exactly what kind of ending it had.
The past year came with its fair share of happy and sad moments … but the truly remarkable thing is that none of those was really an “ending.”
In fact, I would argue that “endings” don’t even really exist.
Many programs and websites feature a “Year in Review” before Dec. 31, as though the triumphs, tragedies, revelations, and losses of the past year will become nothing more than memories preserved in history books.
And though these top headlines may, in fact, be the ones that will be revisited on television, computer, radio, and print, I can’t help but think the best moments, the ones that teach us the most, come from experiences much closer to home.
“Endings” happen all the time, not just when one year passes into another. I can think of several that happened throughout my life.
The first major “ending” that comes to mind is the final installment of the Harry Potter series. While the last book technically marked the end of Harry’s adventures, it didn’t really feel like the end until the final movie was released.
Advertised with the tagline “It all ends here,” the movie’s marketing was playing right to the hearts of the “Harry Potter generation,” all of whom felt like they were coming to the last stop in a very, very long journey.
Going to a midnight release for the last time, dressed in a Gryffindor T-shirt, was both a saddening and exciting experience. And when it was over, it was simply that, over. There were no more movies, no more books, no more long hours discussing characters and plot.
And that, perhaps, is the hardest thing about endings. It is as though the universe has picked us up and plopped us in the middle of deep, deep mud. Try as we might, we are powerless to continue on.
That feeling is one that I, and I’m sure many others, have experienced again and again.
Graduating from high school came with the knowledge that those four years of relationships and classes would never be repeated.
And again, when I graduated from college, every memory of late night studying and good times with friends had become just those: memories.
That feeling resurfaces at the end of every vacation: Never again will I be this age, at this point in my life, taking a picture with Jasmine and Aladdin at Disney World; or gazing up at Mount Rushmore; or trying just-off-the-line Kisses at Hershey, Pa.
That feeling of “never again” is the very essence of every ending and the core of New Year’s Eve as we say goodbye to one year and welcome the next.
What a sad thought … and yet, every New Year’s Eve is a happy occasion.
We get together with family and friends, we dance, we kiss, and we watch the ball drop in Times Square.
It is remarkable that something that could be filled with such sadness, is, year after year, a moment of celebration.
And that is why I argue that there is truly no such thing as an ending.
As humans, we have the ability to do so many things, both good and bad. But above all, we have an enormous capacity for optimism.
We strive to find ways to continue; we pull ourselves out of the mud the universe seems determined to push us into.
In my life alone, I have seen that proven again and again: Harry Potter may be over, but there is still a theme park.
I stay in touch with high school friends on Facebook, and I still meet up with college friends every couple of months for game nights.
And with every vacation, I find myself reliving memories from past ones, even as new ones are created.
“Endings” exist only as much as we allow them to, which, I am glad to say, is very rarely.
As author Frank Herbert wrote, “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
Sarah Allen can be reached at www.civitasmedia.com.