Those of you who are on Facebook may have noticed a section they have called “On This Day” which shows you what you posted on that date each year since you joined Facebook. I had a look at mine on the last day of 2017 and saw a progression of end-of-year posts where I cussed out that current year and fervently asked the next year not to be so bad. It made me stop and think about things for a while.
Perhaps you have read books or seen TV shows/movies where the main characters just never catch a break. They solve one urgent dilemma, only to be hit with the next one. One character’s life is miraculously saved, only for them to be kidnapped while walking out the hospital doors. They are rescued, but then an earthquake hits. They leap over a growing chasm to safety… onto an improbable platform of snakes. You know. Like that. Those stories generally rile me up enormously because I want to shout at the writers, “Would you just let them enjoy things for a second? Can’t they savor their victory for one consarned minute without you throwing another baddie at them?! Where is that happily-ever-after we’re always promised!?” Of course, eventually, that’s exactly how many stories come to a conclusion: our heroes conquer all and live happily ever after, or so we assume. We don’t really know if the Prince and Princess live in bliss for all time, though. We’ve left their story; we just know how it goes up to the point when love wins the day and… end scene.
Pondering on it, I’ve decided that fairytales and other forms of fiction have a lot to answer for. I have been conditioned to expect that at some point the main character in my story (me!) will live “happily ever after” or at least have a good, long contented run of good stuff happening in a peaceful life. Hmm… let’s review.
2017. I can’t clearly call it the worst year ever, though it’s in the running. If you’ve followed my column you know about some of the things that have happened; the thousand miles a month of nail-biting, pants-wetting, white-knuckle driving up and down the treacherous A9, my husband’s increased health problems, the house-move that happened while he was in the hospital, and all the rest. There’s a lot more that I haven’t written about here, and I won’t bore you with details, but it has been a stressful year like no other in every possible way. I have 2017-fatigue, and I am sure that some of you do, too. In fact, Facebook’s “On This Day” showed me that I had year-end-exhaustion going back to around 2011!
In thinking over this past, unbelievably difficult year, what I’ve finally realized is that there IS no happily-ever-after. I actually don’t mean that in a negative way, regardless of how it might sound. Maybe I should have seen the light sooner but… I need to stop waiting for that gilded fairytale moment when all is well and will always be well. It doesn’t exist. Our stories are constantly changing and we write new chapters all the time; the story doesn’t end until we ourselves end, so while there can be lots of happiness on every page, the “ever after” part is bunk. I have come to the conclusion that I really have to accept this, and even embrace it. In this I am inspired by my friend (and yours, if you are fortunate!) Matt Grigsby who wrote, in his own end-of-year Facebook post, “I don’t want to chalk up 2017 as a wasted year, with nothing learned. I’d rather look at it as a jumping off point to some better stuff.”
Life: we put out one fire, and while we are wiping our soot-stained brows the embers behind us catch a puff of air and either start to smolder or just outright burst into fresh flame. We turn around once we feel the heat at our backs, and we stomp out that fire… just in time to side-step a charred tree that wants to fall on top of us. (I know that metaphor will hit awfully close to home to some of you; we hear about the wildfires out west even here, across the ocean.) Over and over, we solve a series of problems only to be faced with a new set of issues, and so on it goes. Stuff keeps happening. We never seem to get to sit back, look around contentedly and think, “Hey, this is nice,” and get a breather for a good long while. Finally I see it… the authors and scriptwriters aren’t wrong – though they do tend towards the excessive – they’re just mirroring life. Often, respite is in short supply, so we have to buck up and keep going.
The beauty of a life even as chaotic and interrupted as my life is with Sem is that it’s not all bad – far from it – and that’s a thing to hold onto tightly. We laugh nearly every day, my love and I. Indeed one of the best things in my life is that I can often make him laugh, really laugh. Knowing that I make his life nicer, better, more fun, more filled to the brim with as much love as I have to give (it’s a lot), makes my life good, in turn. Knowing that he loves me, never doubting it for a second, is a treasured and precious fact. We are almost always easy with each other. It’s not perfect – nothing is perfect – but it is more than I ever expected, in a relationship and in life, in many of the ways that matter the most. In that respect our life together is an awful lot like a fairytale. Sem’s armor might be rusty and the bloom is certainly off my rose but oh, how we love each other, and will continue to do so – dare I say it – “ever after!”
I have no idea what this year will bring. Who does? I’ve stopped trying to think ahead, and maybe that’s the lesson life is trying to batter into me. All I can do is try to react to things more positively and not fall into the everything-is-a-disaster-and- nothing-is-good trap. Because it isn’t all a disaster, and much of it really is good. Most of the time I’m afraid to revel in the good things or even acknowledge them because I irrationally fear that allowing myself happiness will bring on something bad. But the reality is that there’s always going to be bad stuff. It’s not a flaw in the story, it’s just part of the ongoing tale. The vital thing is that there are always good things, too, both big and small. To rebuff those good things or to ignore them is to dishonor them.
So I’ve given up asking the next year, as if it is some kind of conscious entity, to be less rotten than the last. I’ve finally realized that 2017 doesn’t care if I hurl vicious swears at it, no more than 2018 cares if I come to it on my knees, begging for it not to be awful. 2018 will be whatever it will be and it’s likely that there will be some baddies in it, but it’s also likely that it will contain love and laughter and joy too, just like all of these previous years with Sem.
For me, that’s all it boils down to. If I can write, at the close of each year, that I still have my sweetheart here with me, then that’s another successful year of living, in my book; one more chapter where we, the main characters in our own story, live happily… in spite of it all.