I have found that when I finish reading a book I am left with one of three feelings. 1) I am relieved to finally be through with it 2) I find myself wanting to keep reading more desiring that the story continue, or 3) I find myself completely satisfied and wanting nothing more than what the author has given me. Of the three of these scenarios, I believe the third to be the best.
Usually, if I finish a book with the first of my reactions, I did not want to be reading it in the first place (i.e. 99% of the books I “read” as an undergrad). If left with the second, though I may have really enjoyed the book, the author has probably left some loose ends untied and I really just want them to finish what they started. But if I leave a book feeling completely satisfied with it, I feel like the author has done their job; everything started was finished and they were not being presumptuous by trying to set themselves up for a sequel (and everyone knows that the best sequels could have been stand alone stories all by themselves!)
I recently watched the last page of a story turn. It was a story taking place inside of the grander story of my life, taking place inside of the grander story of God. The pages were filled out with true events and the ending was not necessarily a happy one, but it was the right one. The story ended just the way it was supposed to; in a way that left everyone involved satisfied with the part they had played and better off at the conclusion. This story however did not have a “happily ever after.”
The fairy tales of our youth have a tendency to teach us that every story should have a “happily ever after” tagged on the end of it. This is a lie and worse yet, this is a boring ending. Have you ever stopped to think about what possibly could have happened in the years following the marriage of the Prince and Princess in these fairytales that we idealize so much? What were Cinderella and the Prince like after being married for fifteen years? Did the mice still take care of their homestead? The Prince would probably have been made king and Cinderella queen, what if they had differing ideas on how the country should be run? What if their children were spoiled brats and their eldest son already making plans to usurp his father’s power? Did Cinderella still remember how she attained such a prominent position, or had she been blinded by authority? And despite all that has happened in their lives, were Cinderella and the Prince able to find a way to love each other through it all?
I hope the characters in the movies we grew up watching struggled. I hope they faced new challenges and overcame them. I hope they had disagreements, and experienced tragedies. I hope they lived out their dreams and fought for the things they cared about. I hope they lived in a manner that challenged the status quo in order to bring justice to the people who were hurting.
A life without struggle and opposition is no life at all. A life without ambition and passion is no life at all. A life without risk, without adventure, without that feeling deep in your gut telling you “this could be a very bad idea but you should probably go ahead and do it anyway” is no life at all.
Sometimes a story needs to end with “and he lived to fight another day” or “after living a full life, she embarked on the grand adventure of eternity” or “but not even that could stop them from chasing their dreams.” These are the real endings that inspire us.
There is a story in the Bible about a woman named Esther who was very beautiful. Esther had kind of a Cinderella experience and one thing led to another and she became the queen of the most powerful empire in the world. She however was a member of a minority group that this guy named Haman hated. The problem here is that Haman was the king’s closest advisor and he convinced the king to order that this entire minority group be killed. Esther had a decision to make. She could sit back and let her people be destroyed or she could take action. Wait a second; I thought this was a Cinderella story. She is the queen now; she should be living “happily ever after,” but then again, that is not reality.
Esther had a cousin named Mordecai living in the king’s city who sent a message to her saying this:
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to a royal position for such a time as this?”
Mordecai saw the potential Esther had to make a difference, and called her out of her “happily ever after” ending by pointing out just how unhappily that story would have ended. Instead he challenged her to fight for an ending greater than the one she had been presented with, and when push came to shove… she decided to throw punches.
The end of Esther’s story may have said something like “And Esther was esteemed as a hero of her people for generations to come.” Not “happily ever after.” Better than “happily ever after.” It ended the way it was supposed to, leaving the readers completely satisfied with it. I would imagine that in the end, Esther was pretty satisfied with the ending herself.
I recently watched the last page of a story turn, and I am glad there was no “happily ever after” at the end. I think this one ended like this: “He smiled wryly. Even though he lost this round, he knew the best was still yet to come.”