Seeking closure in a world where past, present, and future can all disappoint.
One of the things I miss about childhood is the happy emptiness of it. Nothing important to think about while drifting off to sleep. Easily-dissolved guilt, carefree fun, and the impenetrable security of a favorite lap. No sense of eternal duty, no five-year plans, no everlasting to-do lists, no tedious theories. Just this very moment.
Closure. That settled feeling that allows me to smile in the dark at no one in particular. A laugh that comes easily, a lightness of step, a true ‘ahhh’ moment. A satisfied sigh at the end of a long day. My parents’ generation might call it ‘peace’.
I relish those ‘ahh’ moments. Sometimes I live for them. Live for the completion of this particular project, live for a word of praise from someone I admire, live to be justified in a decision, live for four o’clock or next week or that imagined morning when I am everything I long to be.
I have often caught myself thinking of life in terms of a to-do list. Scratch this out, pass this milestone, check this box, and then you can kick back and begin to live. In a world of open loops, I crave closure.
As I write this, 273 unread emails scream silently from my inbox. I don’t know what I will be doing a month from now. I want to understand everything and understand it now, yet so many questions lie unanswered. Life feels like a barrage of variables and equations and unknowns. Where is my closure now?
Problem is, I never can quite get there. Try as I might, the to-do list is never entirely empty. Sure, it’s manageable sometimes, but I want to slaughter it. I want to finish my day with a blank slate and a final nod and a perfect score. Every day. Flawlessly. I want to meet my own expectations. Then I feel free.
I must accept, I suppose, the burdens of adulthood. I must conclude that the to-do list – my duties, my calling – IS my life. I will never escape it, so I must embrace the quotidian.
But still I crave closure. I journal at the end of every day, write year-in-review summaries come December, and peck out too-lengthy emails to close friends. I peruse the memories and assess.
I was foolish then.
That was brilliant.
This moment was among the best of my life.
I failed to rise to the occasion all week.
Sometimes I’ll scan a page of memories and sigh gratefully. What a week. What a conversation. What a rich time that was! And then, remembering, I find to my chagrin that I was flustered and unconfident at the time.
I long to live in the moment. To know true joy. To live little things richly. To laugh honestly and freely. To swallow each bitter pill slowly. To give myself away and love it, not later, but at that very moment. To open my pores and command my senses to drink life in. To make celebration a habit.
And yet I find in myself a tendency to romanticize the past and the future while slogging through the present.
Today is a litany of projects at home, and I rush to put them behind me. The next day is full of meetings, during which I feel uncomfortable. Only on the third day do I remember with pleasure the satisfaction of a few hours in the kitchen and the camaraderie of brainstorming with colleagues.
I marvel at people with the seeming ability to relax on cue. I cock my head and wonder if their lives are orderly enough to allow this indulgence.
Meanwhile I create my own little closure, petty milestones that only taunt the real hunger. Once I make this phone call. After I finish the dishes. I will curl in bed and know a tiny kind of peace. As a colleague said, “If we have some way to check this task off, a lot of women will do it for us, just so they can check it off.”
Perhaps this is one reason why we appreciate movies. After an hour or two of turmoil, a clear-cut moment of truth. The first kiss of a dreamy future, the death of an ogre, a final handclasp, or the predictable hero disappearing under the horizon. By the time the credits roll, we have watched an epic moment rise and fall, and together with the characters who lived it, our analysis is fixed and the case is closed.
I’ve sometimes thought about that final haunting scene in Gone With the Wind, when Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) turns on the threshold to offer the eight words that have made so many lovers cringe. In real life, can one person let another roll off their back so cleanly?
Rhett may have disappeared into the mist, but he had to go somewhere, and at some point Scarlett had to pick herself up and stumble inside. In real life, they would have reconnected on facebook within the decade. Each was still young: surely romance – or the façade thereof – crossed their paths at a later date? If nothing else, each would be tortured by the memory of the other for decades after that final snap. Where you and I stare bleary-eyed at the credits, the real world agony was only beginning another chapter.
And yet somehow, in watching, we know intuitively that the couple never spoke again, and that nothing worth telling ever happened afterwards. If Rhett wandered the globe aimlessly and Scarlett was admitted into an asylum, no one has been the wiser.
In real life, the torture is endless. If Rhett found that charm and grace he sought, surely he was too bruised to enjoy it with a clean conscience. If Scarlett caught the eye of another man, surely she was pained to remember that her incorrigible selfishness had slain the soul of more than one man already.
In real life, there is precious little closure. The cutting words roll just as easily, only they do not cue the credits. I stomp off self-righteously, bite my lip as soon as I am alone, and spend the next week kicking myself. A relationship sinks to an uneasy silence. Or, if I am willing to own up and begin again, perhaps it tiptoes back to life. But always it hangs in a balance.
Lately I have opened my Bible to discover that God loves closure just as much as I do. Perhaps more. I remember with surprise that He is called The Beginning…and the End.
The Alpha and Omega. The Aleph and the Tav. The A and the Z.
The thought that opens the chapter, the thought that finishes it, and every thought between them.
I turn away from my 273 unread emails, a nearby pile of laundry, and my unanswered questions. Outside, a sharp breeze, the forerunner of spring, collides with sunshine in an easy whirl. I breathe deeply and squeeze my eyelids shut. For one bitter moment I resent nature for being so cheery when ten thousand world crises riddle my spirit and harangue my sense of Christian duty.
And then I remember Christ Himself, and smile. My Messiah lived the most stressful and yet at the same time the most calm of earthly lives. He was a man who wept for Jerusalem and agonized over a planet and carried the world on his shoulders but still managed to sleep like a baby in a near-fatal storm. My Sar Shalom – Prince of Peace – doubles as the mastermind of a war against the Evil One. Glorious paradox!
I hesitate. Oh, to live satisfied (“peace I leave with you”), and yet also to live hungry (“those who hunger and thirst after righteousness”). To live in serenity (“anxious for nothing”), but at the same time to taste battle (“fight the good fight”)!
I cling to the secret of His unusual peace. Are nights of prayer on lonely mountains really necessary? Rejecting the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ in exchange for the whisper of the eternal?
Yes, very necessary.
“Be still and know that I am God…”
I was made to see clearly, but today I see in a glass darkly. Not until another day will I see face-to-face. I was made to know fully, as I am fully known. But today I know only in part. I hate that.
I accept that.
Ahh, real joy in the vortex. The whisper, not in the absence of the whirlwind, but in spite of it. Peace by choice. Joy on command, God’s command.