There is a strange dichotomy in the human experience between looking toward an ending and being disappointed when it happens.
I noticed this during recent conversations with friends and families about TV shows we are watching. The same is true in movies and books. On the one hand, we are in it to see what happens. We want to know “how it ends”. There is a final point the story is working toward and one of the main reasons we are invested is to see how it ends.
On the other hand, we are never really satisfied with the ending. I have a theory that, in terms of movies and books and stuff, we don’t really like endings. My wife will read a full series, seven books or more, and want to stop when she is fifty pages from the end. Over-hyped television finales always seem to disappoint.
Give Me an Ending, But Not Yet!
Obviously, a lot of our disappointment in the entertainment industry is that endings are not what we hope or wanted them to be. I think that is a nice cover for a deeper reality. We don’t really want it to end at all.
Isn’t that a strange idea? That we are watching something to find out the ending, we are invested, anticipatory, and hopeful of the conclusions. Yet, we mourn it when it arrives.
We don’t like endings. Endings mean it is over. And we like our shows and books more for the journey, the characters, and complicated choices than for the inevitable conclusion they must face.
So, we live in this tension. We want an ending, a satisfying one. But not yet. We want the journey. We want the characters. We want to experience and explore the choices.
Of course, this is an example of art imitating life. We want to achieve our goals and reach our milestones. Yet, when we do, even if it is in a beautifully victorious way, there is a sense of disappointment. There is a mourning that happens, mourning the end of the journey.
We live this cycle over and over again. We place our hope in the ending of a particular season – our wedding day to end the season of singleness, a job promotion to end our season of “starting out”, etc. If we are lucky, we achieve our ends. But even the achievement is, in a way, a sad occasion. The season is over. The experience has concluded. The result of this is we tend to romanticize the former years – “glory” years of high school, life before kids, etc. We do this because we have not properly acknowledged and mourned the end of a season and the truth that the journey we were on is at least as important as its momentary conclusions.
The other issue is that we are thrust into a new season, immediately. To use the entertainment industry metaphor, perhaps we often confuse the end of a season with the end of the series. We are almost surprised when life continues on and we still have to deal with the deeper themes of our story.
When we talk about a Transcendent There, we are essentially talking about understanding the deeper themes of one’s journey. The themes that will follow us from one episode to the next, one season to the next. Because life is not really about getting to the end. The end, after all, is death (physically speaking). The point of life is stewarding the journey. And the Christian worldview is that death is just another transition, not a right and proper “end”. The journey continues, albeit with some dramatic changes, forever.
Maybe it is for this reason that we don’t really like endings. Because endings don’t feel “real” to us. The best we experience is transitions. But the real essence of life, the real joy of existence, is in what happens along the way.