One of my enduring metaphors is that life is a lot like a Saturday Night Live skit: it starts off with a pretty good premise, but no one has any idea how to end it well. I thought about it again this morning when I read these words from Pádraig Ó Tuama:
I don’t know if the story of our griefs has an ending, only a next chapter or, perhaps, the careful telling and retelling of the recent chapters.
At this point in human history, none of us was here for the beginning of the story and we will not be here for the end. Our life stories are all being told in the middle of it all. If we want to think about it as one big story, then we are on stage for our scenes and then we exit, stage left. If it is all one big story, it is an incredibly convoluted one. The plot is all over the place. It helps me to think of it more as an anthology, rather than an epic–a collection of loosely, and sometimes surprisingly, connected short stories.
Pádraig’s words also make me think about those who point out that all our stories follow basic plot lines. Somewhere, probably tucked inside a book, I have a card with a quote on the front that reads, “The story of my life has a wonderful cast of characters, I’m just not sure about the plot.” The real life of any story is in the characters, not the plot twists.
We are living in an extraordinary moment when our global circumstance has connected us in unusual ways because of Covid-19. We are all trying to figure out what to do and hearing about parts of the world we rarely consider. It has reminded me of a poem I wrote many years ago about all those in the world who live happy and fulfilled lives and never miss knowing me.
a family is gathering
for a meal outside Spokane the daughter is still wearing
her soccer uniform the mother is chatting as she passes the potatoes the father is nonverbal
trying to engage
the dog is waiting
for someone to share
they will finish their dinners their conversations their homework they will turn on the television the phone will ring several times it will not be me
no one in that house knows
I live across the continent or
I have tales to tell
of my youth of my life
of what I did yesterday they don’t know
I can cook or play guitar
or that I’m writing a poem they don’t know
I’ve never been to Spokane they’re not concerned
they are finding their dreams building their lives breaking their hearts living out their days without knowing me
they are not the only ones
in all my years
no has ever called to
“Come quickly to Spokane
we just realized
we can’t go on without you” the same could be said for the table
across the room from me
in this coffee shop
the gossamer tether
of humanity doesn’t appear
to reach as far
as the next booth
unless the light is just right
and I can see the lines
I’m not sure which view is easier to live with
It struck me this morning that another way to imagine how our stories fit together is to se4 them as some sort of cosmic multi-track recording, each track layered on the others, harmony and instrumentation, with the melody jumping from one track to the other–improvisational jazz–depending on who is taking the lead in that moment.
All my metaphors so far imply that we are the actors or the characters; we are also the audience; the readers; and, at least, co-writers who will all leave the ending unwritten.