An odd bit of comfort: I have a friend who, whenever someone is stressed, worried, or generally fretful, attempts to reassure that person by reminding them that “in a hundred years we’ll all be dead and none of this will matter.”
For the longest time, I didn’t get it.
Shouldn’t that be MORE of a reason for stress? How could anyone take comfort in the fact that they’re doomed to fade into oblivion in such a (relatively) minuscule span of time? That’s terrifying.
Then, I read a wonderful piece called “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood for a class of mine. It’s short (about 3 pages) and wonderful.
It begins with the setup “John and Mary meet.”
It then goes through possible fates for John and Mary: A, the generic happy ending (John and Mary live a happy life and eventually die old and satisfied); B, which adds a bit of drama in the form of unrequited love and changes the ending a bit (John and Mary live different lives and eventually both die a different way); C, which plays around a bit with characterization and setting, and changes the ending yet again (the characters live and eventually die in a slightly new way); and so on and so forth with D, E, and F.
Some would protest that not every story must end with the deaths of the characters, but I disagree. Whether the story chooses to show it or not, the characters are (almost, considering some genre fiction) always mortal - inherently finite. They will die, whether the story has stopped recording their lives before that point or not.
The ending of Atwood’s piece (for it is not a story, but a multitude of stories) presents the underlying truth:
“You’ll have to face it, the endings are the same however you slice it. Don’t be deluded by any other endings, they’re all fake, either deliberately fake, with malicious intent to deceive, or just motivated by excessive optimism if not by downright sentimentality.
The only authentic ending is the one provided here:
John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die.
That’s about all that can be said for plots, which anyway are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what.”
I read that, and suddenly - after six years of being told basically the same thing by my friend - I finally got it.
All that crappy stuff that’s happening to you now? All the stuff that you feel like you have no control over? All the stuff you feel is going to ruin your life?
It doesn’t change the ending of the story.
Nothing - but NOTHING - is strong enough, big enough, to negatively affect the inevitable ending of the story.
The story is yours, the ending is certain, and nothing terrible has the power to force you from your path.
In a hundred years we’ll all be dead and none of this will matter.