I’ve been thinking a lot about endings lately. Not endings of entire stories, but endings of chapters. My wife and I are about to drive across the country for a new life in Ohio. She has a new, better-paying job. We have a new house waiting for us. A new van to get us there. I have season tickets to the Cleveland Indians. We might even be able to persuade one of our best friends to come out and live with or near us, a friend who we thought moved out of our lives forever six months ago. And we’ll still have our familiar furniture, and our cats, and our daughter!
But…we are also leaving so much behind. It’s not easy to travel between Ohio and Provo, Utah. It’s two days of straight driving, or a very expensive plane ticket. That’s a huge gap between us and the things we’re leaving. The soul-deep friends we’ve developed here. Both of our cars, who have been with us through so much. Our first home together, where we’ve lived for five and a half years. Our cat Tzeitel, who disappeared three years ago, whom, by us moving to Ohio, guarantees we’ll never see her again. There wasn’t much of a chance anyway, but it still feels like we’re only now officially abandoning her.
I over-sentimentalize almost everything. It’s one of my greatest weaknesses. I anthropomorphize everything too. My car, Fyodor. My home, Fort Hewitt. My cats, Keyta and Tzeitel. Making them people makes it all the harder to leave them behind because I can’t explain to them how I feel. I can’t explain to them how much I care, because they don’t have my language. I can’t explain to them why I’m leaving, or that I’ll try and be back someday. And in return, I can’t hear their assurances that they will be okay, that they’ve said goodbye to others before, that they had such a wonderful time with me and they look forward to reuniting in the next life. Instead I just have to leave all of it behind, and let those things wonder why I’m abandoning them.
It hurts my soul to do this. Deep down, it hurts.
One of my friends I absolutely hate to leave, because he just suffered a great emotional blow with a personal relationship. Now his favorite people are leaving all of a sudden right at the same time. No more weekend hangouts. No one to look forward to seeing at the close of a week. And it’s me who’s leaving him alone when he needs a friend the most. That kills me.
To that friend: please come out to Ohio if and when you can! The guilt kills me, especially at night. We need you near us!
Damn it, it seems this world is nothing but partings. We don’t notice the good times because we can’t. They’re generally a flow of experiences. The partings, the losses, the endings, are the moments when the flow changes. Those we notice with poignancy. They are when we ram into a wall, when we feel torn apart. The partings impact us. Eventually we right ourselves again and we get back into a flow. And the flow is good, because it’s taking us somewhere good. But it doesn’t stop the moments our lives change course from hurting, from making us dread the next one.
Even if an experience is emotionally neutral, the very fact of it ending hurts me. It really does. Changing the litter box in the laundry room. Using that particular washing machine and dryer. Having to sweep the hardwood floor and seeing a visible result. The fact that those things will literally never happen again, even if they aren’t powerful moments in my life…it gives me sadness.
Let alone the memories that are truly meaningful. For instance, I’ll only ever walk into that Leading Edge slush room one more time. The place where I met my wife, where I met literally all my Utah friends but one. The editing room, where my wife and I led the team to two stellar issues, where I got my first acceptance for publication for “Duckman.” That’s all just a memory now, with nothing to relive it.
All in all, I hate goodbyes. Everyone does, but I think they hurt me more than most. Especially at night. And especially when I know it’s coming in advance, and I need to wait and count down the days, the hours, the moments, planning my schedule and penciling in what I know will be the final experiences of my life in this chapter, wondering if I’m using this time wisely.
The waiting is the slow twist of the knife. If I’m nervous about something, I’m the kind of person who wants desperately to get it over with. When the hour arrives, when I’ve determined I’m ready, I don’t want to wait anymore. I want to just rip off the band-aid. I want to just jump into the icy cold pool. I want to just give that report in front of the class the very first, rather than wait, shaking, for the rest of my peers to give theirs while I cower in the back of the room. Giving my baby her name and blessing was nothing. The anxiety of adrenaline shooting through me days in advance while being able to do nothing about it was the killer.
And this goodbye process is a slow death. Methodical. Deliberate. And I’m the one doing the very dissecting that’s so torturing me! Organizing, implementing, directing the move. Sweeping up all my belongings, piece by piece, waiting day by day for the final day of farewell to come, experiencing the agony over and over again every single night. Having to look around at my little duplex where I’ve lived all my married days and formed my every married memory knowing that it’s among the last, but I can’t leave yet. I can’t just get in the car and go. No, I have to linger and soak up the sadness bit by bit. Think and feel in darkness as my body refuses to fall asleep. Bidding slow farewell to so many things that I will literally never see, hear, feel, or otherwise experience ever again.
Besides the new happy things I have waiting for my life in Ohio—and yet unknown happinesses can never compare with known ones—I have one hope. It is a single word: restoration.
You may have read Chapter 4 of my book The Hero Doctrine. It’s about how this life is in reality a dream, a dream from which we will one day wake up to true reality; how grief and loss are merely temporary, and that every good thing we wave farewell to in this world will rise with us in the next. In other words, restoration.
I’m going to leave an excerpt of that chapter here. It deals with the ending of The Last Battle in The Chronicles of Narnia. Never has the celestial kingdom been better described, even by Mormon writers.
In describing the new Narnia as compared to the old, one character tells little Lucy Pevensie, “When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.”
Perhaps this is the answer to the question of my sentimental feelings for my old home. At the very least, it suggests one. As another character says, in that heavenly Narnia, “no good thing is destroyed.” I believe that in some form, my house, my old home, will be raised in the restoration of all good things. And perhaps that celestialized, glorified home is the real thing, not the dream version that I hold so much attachment to in this world.
In the new Narnia, the Pevensie children come upon a set of great golden gates. Here they hesitate, wondering if those gates could possibly be meant for them to enter. Then they hear a great horn, and the gates swing open wide, and out of the gates burst forth all the friends and family they ever had to say goodbye to, the kings and queens of old and the great heroes of Narnia’s past, creatures with whom they once shared adventures but had long since passed away, all at peace and safe at last, never to be lost or bid goodbye to again.
“Everyone you had ever heard of (if you knew the history of those countries) seemed to be there. There was Glimfeather the Owl and Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle, and King Rilian the Disenchanted, and his mother the Star’s daughter and his great father Caspian himself. And close beside him were the Lord Drinian and the Lord Berne and Trumpkin the Dwarf and Trufflehunter the good Badger with Glenstorm the Centaur and a hundred other heroes of the great War of Deliverance. And then from another side came Cor the King of Archenland with King Lune his father and his wife Queen Aravis and the brave Prince Corin Thunder-Fist, his brother, and Bree the Horse and Hwin the Mare. And then—which was a wonder beyond all wonders to Tirian—there came further away in the past, the two good Beavers and Tumnus the Faun. And there was greeting and kissing and hand-shaking and old jokes revived….”
Brothers and sisters, might it be like that for us? Might we meet again all those we had known who went before us? Might we reunite with them as tears stream down our faces, as we shout and exclaim for joy that we never have to part again, that we never have to suffer again, that we can be together in the same society we enjoy on this earth without ever having to wave farewell again?
In the final spoken line of the story, Aslan declares, “The dream is ended: this is the morning.
“And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Despite my sadness, I know that it’s God closing this chapter in my life, not me. I know that because of the curious timing everything seemed to have. The combination of life events outside our control all coming to a climax totally without my input. I won’t go into those here. But I have a testimony that God is a master novelist, and He knows how to close a chapter—and just like C.S. Lewis, He knows how to write a happy ending.