What do you do when you start your day feeling spent? When your mind is already a whir of the things you left undone the day before?
Tasks are one thing (and in our adult lives we always have several things pending, rolling over from the previous day; taxing at times, yes, but doable.)
But today, it is not that. Today it is a heaviness you can't name, or you can name it but there's no way you can really express it in a few sentences or even a few paragraphs.
Too many things left undone.
Too many things that didn't work out the way you wanted them to. Things you put your heart and soul into, people you poured your life into, and you watch them struggle and you wonder if all that effort, all those sacrifices meant anything at all.
In the past, I might have consoled myself by saying we live in a broken world, but that’s not it, not really, not the whole.
It is not as though this universe was a smoothly running machine of sorts, and a few gears or wheels were knocked out of place and if only we found the right way to replace them, everything would be up and running again.
The same goes for people; you wish you knew exactly what gears to replace, exactly what to tighten or what to loosen that might fix them, that would take away the fears or overwrite the trauma or provide the focus or add the needed dose of joy.
But this world is more story with characters and plots than it is machine with gadgets and gears and wires. It is more unwritten pages than engine that needs tuning or overhauling.
Being an author myself, studying story for a living (at least in my ideal life), I recognize elements and threads, archetypes and echoes, but I’m not the author of this grand and overarching story. I am in these pages.
And I do not know how the tale will unfold—not even for my own character, much less these who walk alongside me.
But this makes it sound as though I am fatalistic, as though there is nothing I can do or say to change the way the story will be written. No, because I am the author at least of my part of the story, as you are the author of yours.
So then, life, this universe is not a machine but neither is it a single story. It is thousands upon thousands upon millions of stories threading between and among each other. Plot lines merging, overlapping, some storylines seeming to unravel perhaps for a time before coming together in some new and unexpected way.
And perhaps, perhaps at the end of all things and the beginning of all things, it will be clear how these stories merge and combine and narrate a greater story.
But there is no way of knowing all that at the moment.
There's only walking through these blizzard-white unwritten pages.
I confess that I grow weary on the way. Figuring out my pages, my life, is one thing, but watching those who walk alongside me and watching aspects of their stories unravel, failing to see the character arcs I feel should have come about by now …
Assuming there would be some resolution, some denouement, but seeing instead the plot thickening and the pages growing darker with tension and conflict.
And yet, the stories with the darkest moments are often the ones that give way to the brightest conclusions. With some stories I read as a child, I thought “These characters don't know what they're doing!” It frustrated me to no end that they couldn't be more focused and more mindful.
But now those are the stories that give me the most hope, that confused, discouraged, disheartened characters can still muddle their way through … can find unexpected hope in unexpected places and with unexpected people … can journey not even a day at a time but a single step.
And if they could find their way step by step through the pages of their story, then so can I.
Then so can you.
I think Tolkien states it best, through the words of Samwise Gamgee—gardener, friend, hero—from The Lord of the Rings:
“It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy?
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?
But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. … That there's some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for.”
May you find some good in this world to fight for today, even if fighting means simply putting one foot in front of the other.
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