Day 260: The thing about endings
…and thus our mighty hero slay the beast and rode off into the sunset to live happily ever after. But why? Have you ever really thought about the way some stories choose their endings? Our hero goes through live altering and extremely daunting challenges only to brush it off like he caught the wrong bus. Pardon me, but what the actual fuck?
To be fair not all stories have a happy ending, but most don’t have a realistic one. You don’t need to slay a three headed dragon, or fight a Kuo-toa to have something life altering happen to you. Even small events can leave a mark. In reality our bright, shiny, and newly minted hero, even when they are the victor, walks away from them dull, scratched, bloodied, scared, dirty. You see the happily ever after because in that moment, right after the battle, they don’t realize this is the case.
You walk away from a field of blood and rot, climb into your warm and comfortable bed; for the moment things seem fine. Truly, they are… until they are not. While this is the extreme end of the spectrum, I realized recently that there is a gradient to this. To that end, I will share two stories.
One day, when I was a not-so-bright-eyed Marine thrust into a combat zone yet again, I found myself in the odd circumstance of getting myself stuck in darkness. Like literal darkness, what lead up to this is inconsequential for this story and that is a whole other story for another time if I feel up to sharing at all. It was only for a moment and when I opened my eyes I was no longer in a war zone, but a hospital. Then I blinked and I was back in the US. When I turned around to catch my bearings, I found myself being separated from my beloved Marine Corps. I was a civilian again and I was fine, until I wasn’t.
Now the second story. This term has taken a toll on me. I poured my heart and soul into the work in ways that I didn’t realize I had the strength to do. Between the class, my fellowship, and the apocalypse, it has been a trying time. Then Sunday evening hit. I sent off my final report and while there will be edits before we publish, I was done. No more late-night coding, no trying to decipher mathematical formulations so that I could make them do what I want, I was done. Yet, I was anxious. I knew I had felt this feeling before, but I couldn’t place it until last night.
It’s a feeling like you went on an extended travel and didn’t remember if you locked your door. Our experiences change us, shape us, and quite frankly traumatize us. That doesn’t go away suddenly just because the thing that caused it is no longer a factor. As an older and (hopefully) wiser person than I was in that first story, I think it’s important to acknowledge these feelings.
Maybe it’s grief over the loss of that challenge. The unsatisfying game over screen in the game of life. We focus so hard on overcoming an obstacle and once on the other side of it, it isn’t always clear what the next one is and if the last one was even worth it. When I finished the long journey to my bachelors it occurred to me once I graduated that I didn’t feel any different. Yes, I knew things I didn’t before, I had published my first paper, and I was doing some really cool stuff. I just didn’t FEEL different.
The short of it of course is that there are some complicated emotions tied to endings. While they inevitably lead to new beginnings, we’re often left with questions about our journey and the validity of the experiences we went through. If story one seemed like a more valid reason to have the feelings I did than story two; you should ask yourself, why? Emotional responses to an event are a very personal thing. They are all valid.
Maybe the point of happily ever after isn’t about going back to the way things were, but about accepting who you are in that moment and all the feelings that come along with it.