I collect endings like others collect souvenirs.
Take a list of my favorite books, and I will point you to passages within their pages that give them that status with me. Ask me what my favorite movies are, and I will share my favorite scenes. The same holds for plays, television shows, sometimes even music. The beginnings and the middles, the characters and plots and movements — all race through my head when given the chance. Endings, though — endings, I collect.
It’s a curious thing, this collecting of endings. I think it springs from a childhood spent avoiding conflict (except for with my siblings, as they’d be quick to point out. I was more than a little bossy as a child). The plot lines and characters of my favorite stories — whether in film or paper media — are rife with conflict. Little me, I lived for happy endings after the conflict, so I started collecting them. I would read almost anything I could get my hands on (still do, as a matter of fact), but I loved happy endings. Fairy tales, the Magic Tree House, books by Robin McKinley or Tamora Pierce or Patricia C. Wrede, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Jane Austen, Anne of Green Gables, The Ordinary Princess, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Chronicles of Narnia, Daddy Long-Legs, The Frog Princess, The Blue Castle, Girl in the Limberlost — I read them all, added all of their conclusions and swirling finishes to my growing collection.
Eventually, somewhere between the days of Magic Tree House and more recent favorites (books by Alexandre Dumas, for instance, or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society), I learned that not every story has a happy ending. I learned that even if a story does have a happy ending, that doesn’t necessarily make it a good story. I found that quite frequently, good stories are littered with sadness: the movie Radio helped with that, as well as reading Where the Red Fern Grows, The Scarlet Letter, A Separate Peace. I learned that life is full of pit-falls and sorrows, not always smiles and Happily Ever Afters. I learned that struggles and conflict are real, and that avoiding them like the plague does not make them extinct. At all. In fact, it makes them worse.
Through all of this, I learned to add other bits and pieces to my collection: scenes of strength and encouragement, scenes that showed goodness and shined truth; plot lines that tugged fiercely on my heart strings, not just my imagination. I read and reread old stories and new ones, weaving these threads into my personal tapestry of what Mom always calls “text to life” connections: parallels that support our experiences and understanding of how we live and relate to each other and the world.
That tapestry’s pretty big now. At least as big as the ones they have in the MET and the Cloister. Quite possibly larger. Of course, I suppose it could be small now, too: woven tight and strong and maybe a bit twisted and tricky like a Chinese finger trap. It holds phrases like “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them,” or “‘course he isn’t safe. But he’s good,” or Cornelia Funke’s line that memories cling to the printed page better than anything else. There are people in this design, characters as different as Marguerite Blakeney and the Beast, or Eowyn and Laurel Ingalls Wilder, or Tommy Beresford and Juliet Ashton. There are places as real as London and New York or as fictional as Gondor and Tortall. The one thing theses weavings have in common is that they shape my understanding, show me new perspectives, hold memories of rainy days curled up with a steaming mug of tea. The most important aspect, of course, is that more than once they’ve participated in conversations that led to some of my most cherished friendships.
In my short life, I’ve noticed that reality is bumpier and much, much more convoluted than fiction. Just last week, for example, I had to break into my own house by using a neighbor’s ladder to get to the second floor, where I had to pop out the screen, push up a window, and roll into my bedroom… all so I could make it to the airport in time for my flight (which ended up being delayed for two hours). Endings are so easy: this happened, that happened, but it was all in the past and now we’re here and there is a finishing part to all of this, and that’s what I’m reading or watching or hearing right now.
Life is messy. Fictional endings are all well and good for the occasional morale boost or daydream, but they don’t hold a candle to what’s actually out there: family, friends, city streets, country lanes, adventures that come in all sorts of shapes and sizes (including ones we don’t immediately recognize). Endings are where the reader leaves the story. Our time within its pages, whatever good or ill they’ve done, is finished for the moment. We can return to those last few paragraphs, lingering over words and sentences for as long as we want. We know now, though, that the ending is there. Any reread I do will be done with that end in mind, with my brain seeking out odds and ends that fit that particular plot’s pattern. Endings teach us an important thing, really; they teach us to pay attention.
I still collect endings. I still rewatch the last scenes of ridiculous, air-brained romantic comedies; I still reread the last passages of The Ordinary Princess and The Scarlet Pimpernel. I still love happy endings, and I still read fairy tales. The endings haven’t lost their appeal simply because I grew up a bit. I still like conclusions. I like knowing where I am, how I got there, and I might be a tiny bit addicted to that feeling of resolution that comes with a well-written final scene. I like results.
So, yes, I collect endings. Always have, always will.
But of course, that means I also get the beginnings they leave in their wake.