I recently finished college and a competitive, labor-intensive internship. I’m going to be starting a new job in a couple of weeks, but instead of feeling proud or relieved to have completed my studies, I feel nervous. Why does The End seem so ominous?
— Patrick E.
Well, as the old adage goes, the end is the beginning of something else. It is the beginning of the unknown — that’s why it can be so scary. That’s why it can fill us with unease, but remember that we would get bored if life were predictable. We love the unknown in books, for example. We love movies that shock and awe, stories that end with a twist. We love poems whose endings make us hoot in delight:
Setting the V.C.R. when we go to bed
to record a night owl movie, some charmer we missed
we always allow, for unprogrammed unforeseen,
an extra half hour. (Night gods of the small screen
are ruthless with watchers trapped in their piety.)
We watch next evening, and having slowly found
the start of the film, meet the minors and leads,
enter their time and place, their wills and needs,
hear in our chests the click of empathy’s padlock,
watch the forces gather, unyielding world
against the unyielding heart, one longing’s minefield
laid for another longing, which may yield.
Tears will salt the left-over salad I seize
during ads, or laughter slow my hurry to pee.
But as clot melts toward clearness a black fate
may fall on the screen; the movie started too late.
Torn from the backward-shining of an end
that lights up the meaning of the whole work,
disabled in mind and feeling, I flail and shout,
“I can’t bear it! I have to see how it comes out!”
For what is story if not relief from the pain
of the inconclusive, from dread of the meaningless?
Minds in their silent blast-offs search through space–
how often I’ve followed yours!–for a resting-place.
And I’ll follow, past each universe in its spangled
ballgown who waits for the slow-dance of life to start,
past vacancies of darkness whose vainglory
is endless as death’s, to find the end of the story.
(Mona Van Duyn)
Life is a loop of beginnings and endings, stories copious as crossbars on a roller coaster. Roller coasters scare the living daylights out of me, but sometimes my husband can convince me to ride one with him (not in the least considering the other passengers whose eardrums I might burst with my desperate pleas to STOP THIS RIDE! STOP! STOP! STOP!). I’m glad when it’s over, but I know that in the future my husband will persuade me on another ride. I have no idea how he does it. I am acutely aware that a mishap, no matter how slim the chances, could kill me, though maybe some part of me enjoys being terrified. Maybe some part of me loves that jolt and thrill, hearing that scream that comes from the depths of my fear. Fear is good, most of the time. Anyway, Patrick, you are at a precious juncture in your life. Good things have passed and good things will come. Just enjoy the ride.
Thank you to the many people who have supported this column in various ways. I’d like to extend a special thanks to my mom and dad, Jeff Seglin, Jason Wilson, Dr. Sunshine, Liz Bury, Allison Brown, and my husband, Gamal. • 28 June 2011