Mike Cooper | February 7, 2023
When we tell a story, even a “true” one, we have a beginning and an end. “One day…” eventually rolls into “…and so, that’s what happened’ (or, as Forrest Gump says, “That’s all I have to say about that”). We look at a story as a “slice of life,”—a moment in the cosmic timeline, an experience where someone (possibly ourselves) saw the world one way, and then something happened, and now it’s seen a different way. The impact and meaning of a story depend on where we end it. It’s where and how we leave our readers/listeners. The story can end with a “happily ever after,” or with our character staring out at the snow that is falling, falling, and falling “upon all the living and the dead.” It can end in chains, or the release of chains. It can end in true love, triumph, or the deepest loss.
But it is still only a moment. How do we capture the truth of life? Isn’t that what we’re after? Where is our beginning? An amoeba crawling from the primordial ooze? The Big Bang? The birth of God? And where is our ending? How could we even speculate?
This is, I think, why we write: in order to capture the whole picture, the meaning behind our happiness and suffering, the reason we push on, the understanding of our impermanent permanence. This involves acute speculation and introspection on our experiences, and most people aren’t interested in going there. The writer is a philosopher, a logician, a truth-seeker, a theorist, a dreamer. We look to other writers for their insights, we lean over the page or the keyboard and make an attempt to explain w-h-y.
As far as I know, no one has come up with the definitive universal truth. So we approximate it, hint at it, catch a glimpse of it as it walks past our window, stand next to it on a crowded bus. The end of the story, of the good story, leaves us (and our reader) on a trajectory toward discovery—the open-mouthed, chin-scratching, finger-in-the-air, “I had it on the tip of my tongue” moment that keeps us going, and thinking, and wondering, and trying to figure this whole thing out.
Jackson Browne says it quite well in the song “The Road and the Sky”:
When we come to the place where the road and the sky collide,
Throw me over the edge and let my spirit glide.