“Mythologist Joseph Campbell wisely tells us to scorn the happening ending, “for the world as we know it, as we have seen it, yields but one ending: death, disintegration, dismemberment, and the crucifixion of our heart with the passing of the forms we have loved.” – Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
What’s the alternative to a happy ending?
The “happy ending” of a story has a subtle implication that the ending is a reward. Follow the rules to ensure a happy ending. Fight a courageous battle and win a happy ending. Right a tremendous wrong and earn a happy ending.
Happy endings should be left to writers’ stories. They are fiction. Life is infinitely more random than a plot line. A happy ending also assumes that the story has concluded at the end of a particular episode. Life concludes with death, in all instances.
Unlike the thought-out plot of a story, life is more like a body of water. Ever-changing in its fluidity. It could be a pond: controlled, contained. It could be a river: flowing, winding, gentle, and rushing. It could be an ocean: wide, meaningful, powerful, and expansive. It could be ice: cold, hard, slick, and jagged.
The water may be turbulent. It may crescendo into a roaring waterfall, pitching a traveler forward and down in a relentless motion. It may be waves, growing and shrinking and crashing onto the shore. It may be a hurricane, pelting rain and causing destruction, leaving devastation.
We can control water, but only a little. It will continue to shape to its own will. There is no defined beginning, middle, end. A life traveler can encompass different bodies of water: the safe pond, or the mighty ocean, but will still face the changing properties of water.
I used to believe in a happy ending, as the intended result of playing by the rules. We did what we were supposed to do. We went to college. We got married. We found good jobs. We had babies. We were comfortable.
Instead, I now realize that I have been traveling along a river. Steady with only minor turns. Until recently, when I was hurled over a waterfall, plunged into icy water, and has to fight my way from under the weight back to the surface. I could not control the direction of my river. The shape of the earth over which it flowed created a waterfall; there was nothing I could have done to avoid it.
My river keeps going. There is no “ending” to the story. I can continue to look forward, try to anticipate and stay afloat, but it may still take me on unexpected turns. My purpose is to learn to navigate my river. There is no map. Happiness is the journey, not the destination. I am not headed toward a “happy ending” – just an ending, with happiness along the way.
Nothing is weaker than water,
But when it attacks something hard
Or resistant, then nothing withstands it,
And nothing will alter its way.
-Tao Te Ching
(Side note: My 6-year-old son drew the picture this morning at brunch. When I asked him what it was, he responded that it was a submarine going down a waterfall. I had already written the above post, so the timing was a bit incredible.)