We all want the happy ending. No matter that troubles are thrown in the way of our hero, we walk to walk away smiling because it all worked out in the end. We want the boy to get the girl, or the boy – whichever he prefers. We want the drowning to be saved, the dog to be rescued, the lost child to be found, the frog to turn into the prince. Even in stories of hardship, we wait, hungering for the life lesson to be learned that will have made the pain worth it – the miraculous recovery or in the face of death, the action taken on behalf of his life to change the world. The happy ending changes as we grow up and learn that life isn’t just a bed of roses, and even if it was, roses have thorns and aren’t so pleasant to laze in. So instead of wishing for the glass slipper to fit on the princess’ foot, we know that there will be sickness and complications and messiness. We concede to divorce and death and tears and loss. It’s impossible to bury your head in the sand for too long about all of the evils in the world and the suffering that exists on a daily basis across the world as well as right next door.
But still, we wait for the happy ending. Please let the illness teach him to cherish those he loves instead of living at the office. Allow her to transform her abuse into an organization to help battered women. Let his addiction move him to speak out against drunk driving. Make her realize that after losing her job, it’s time to embrace the moment and do what she’s passionate about instead of settling for security. It’s why the old formula of “boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl” still works. We all know it’s coming, and yet, at least in the movies, let us have our happy ending. And sometimes, it’s not even our own happy endings that we need. I might be unsatisfied with aspects of my own life, but if you can tell me your story, let me share in your tidy, wrapped up package with a bow, then I can relax, assured for another day that there is a sense of fairness and order in this chaotic world we call home.
The part I always get stuck on is that sometimes one person’s happy ending results from another’s disaster. She learned to live in the moment after watching her best friend die. He decided to leave law school to start a farm after seeing his father live at the office his whole life. She marches for breast cancer when her sister is diagnosed. It’s still a life changed, a lesson learned – all probably resulting in more happiness and meaning, but what about the other characters? Where was their happy ending?
And I know, I know. Life isn’t fair. And yet, there’s that still that five year old in me that pouts and wants to know “buy why? Why does it have to be like that?” I tend to wish that I could learn the lesson without going through the hardship. I would like to create a world where I learn love without having to survive loss; where I can follow my dreams without having to lose my job; where I can cherish those I love without almost losing them; where I have compassion and empathy for suffering without having to have had to experience the suffering myself. And yet, I also know that I could have done that. There’s no reason why we can’t become our best selves and find the happy ending without the sorrow. The thing is, I don’t think I would appreciate the ending. I wouldn’t recognize the bow on top if it came automatically; it probably wouldn’t be appreciated. There’s a reason why the cliché “we don’t know what we’ve got til it’s gone” exists. If we don’t know sadness, we can’t feel the bliss.
Lately, I have been lucky to have the opportunity to set the ground work for a happy ending. Or said another way, life has pretty much sucked most days. Or one more time, I am learning valuable life lessons and have the chance to grow from them…all true, and depending on which side of the bed I wake up on, I choose from one of the three.
And since I like to live a organized, aka controlled, life sometimes, I like to know which lesson I’m supposed to be learning before I actually learn it. As if I could somehow cheat the system. Example: Before these past two months, even with ample free time, I kept myself busy. I was busy with “stuff”. Nothing urgent, just always running errands (still not sure exactly what these errands were…various trips to target or tj maxx or Walgreens, the library, washing my car…) and even at home, I could fill hours cleaning and searching on the internet, organizing, cooking…it didn’t matter, I just didn’t sit still. Know, sometimes knowing how to keep yourself busy is a skill – good for moments where you need distraction. However, not really a good life plan. So obviously, learning how to rest, to relax, to unwind would be a good lesson for me. I knew this…and once again, knowing something, at least in my life, doesn’t translate into actually doing it.
So, since I’ve been mostly housebound for the past two months, I am learning to relax. We can call it forced relaxation, or on more bitter days, I call it “get me away from this damn couch!” I never appreciated my car and the value of a long drive until I could no longer stand the motion of the car. I used to long for days with no agenda, no lists of things to do, but after three months of being unemployed, the shininess has worn off. But I am learning. I can watch an entire movie without also working on the computer or washing the floors. I take walks in the sunshine just to feel the warmth. I write. I read in the middle of the afternoon. I paint my toes. Still, patience is not a lesson I have mastered, and so I find myself wanting to decide when I’m done with the lesson – when I’m ready for my happy ending. Ok world, I get it – need to relax! And good, check! Ready to move on now. But it just doesn’t work like that. Or perhaps that’s not the lesson that I’m meant to be learning…
Still, it’s the happy ending that gets me out of bed each morning. It’s the hope that something good will come from this, I will be a better version of myself by the end. Sometimes even a diagnosis can be a happy ending, or getting fired, or getting divorced. Happy endings sometimes sneak up on us in disguise, or they get lost in the noise of the day, buried amidst the laundry.
We all want our happy endings. Even when the movie ends with a predictable final kiss, we might proclaim our disgust in it’s predictability, but secretly, don’t we all want to live happily ever after? So we’ll wait…and learn…and wait a bit longer…. I keep my eyes open, scanning the horizons, sure that a happy ending must be just ahead.