The Endings

 

“Evie set the bar low but Peckerwood just considered it a challenge. There seemed to be no expectation so low that Peckerwood couldn’t get beneath it. You know a man ain’t worth a wooden nickel when his own mother quits him.” – Barbara Thurman,  Regrets A’Plenty 

 

I’ve been thinking about endings a lot lately. It is that time of year, after all. By and large, we don’t talk much about endings and how to handle them. Truthfully, how many dinner conversations have you had about endings of any sort? Writers will wax on forever about how to get started on a book, how to keep going on a book, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a class or a conversation with other writers about the best way to end a book, or how to quit a character. I’ve had critics who didn’t like the way I ended a novel say as much but they rarely offer suggestions for what would have made a better ending.

Of course, Tim thinks the way I deal with endings is by killing everyone off. Those of you who have read my books know that is absolutely not true. I usually open books with people being killed but I don’t think I’ve ever ended a book that way.

Lately, my mailbox has been filled with advertisements for life-flight and cremation services. In case the life-flight doesn’t work out, I reckon. Truthfully, I was more occupied with my own ending when I had small children underfoot. I realize now that it is perfectly natural for parents of young children to worry about such endings.

With a global pandemic still underway – (Piss off you anti-vaxxers. Go on, move off to Idaho. Ask Hemingway and Lori Vallow how that worked out for them) – there has been a lot of talk about death but mostly in a political way. When we hear that millions have died globally as a result of a virus on a rampage, we process that information the same way we would process an announcement that we just won millions in the lottery: We can’t imagine what that means for us or how it affects our daily life.

The truth is most of  are horribly ill-equipped to handle endings of any sort, so we live in a constant state of avoidance and intentional ignorance. We don’t want to turn the last page on a good book, so we read slower. We don’t want to admit that a cherished friendship has run its course, so we pretend that we are both just too busy to catch up with each other. We loathe the idea of leaving a job, even a job we loathe, which makes no sense really because if there is one thing we humans do long for, it’s a fresh start, a new beginning. But you know what they say: Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.

What kind of advice is that? 

Why not have as little to do with devils as humanly possible? That’s my goal. 

The only teachings I’ve ever received on endings have come via the church and was packaged in brimstone and lit afire.  Evangelicals, fundamentalists, and para-military whackos like Flynn are obsessed with The Ending. It’s the jihadists version of Virgins Await. End Time literature is the Evangelical’s Erotica – the largest source of income for Conservative Christian publishing.

If you want to draw a crowd among the churched you either preach a message of prosperity or one of hellfire. Either one will gain you a significant following. Toss in a bit of presidential bashing and blatant misogyny and you will be on your way to mega-church stardom. Needless to say, End Times teachings is mostly pure rot and not helpful at all when dealing with endings in real life or in fiction, even.

Fiction may have been my best teacher about endings, although, as with most good teaching, I didn’t realize what I was absorbing at the time or how relevant such lessons would become with time. Consider this lesson from Oliver Twist, a book I found on the plywood shelves of the Bookmobile that visited our trailer park on the south side of Columbus, Georgia in the late 60s:

“My dear child,’ said the old gentleman, moved by the warmth of Oliver’s sudden appeal, ‘you need not be afraid of my deserting you, unless you give me cause.’
I never, never will, sir,’ interposed Oliver.
I hope not,’ rejoined the old gentleman; ‘I do not think you ever will. I have been deceived before, in the objects whom I have endeavoured to benefit; but I feel strongly disposed to trust you, nevertheless, and more strongly interested in your behalf than I can well account for, even to myself. The persons on whom I have bestowed my dearest love lie deep in their graves; but, although the happiness and delight of my life lie buried there too, I have not made a coffin of my heart, and sealed it up for ever on my best affections. Deep affliction has only made them stronger; it ought, I think, for it should refine our nature.”

The young girl that read those words felt a deep and abiding kinship with the orphan boy, Oliver. While I had never been to London, I certainly understood something of the loneliness that the death of a parent can evoke, and the temptation to make a coffin of one’s heart.

That’s the challenge of any ending we ever face isn’t it? To not shut our hearts off from others, but rather to do as Oliver did – nurture an earnest heart: “It is because I think so much of warm and sensitive hearts, that I would spare them from being wounded.”

As I reflect upon the bloodbath at Oxford High, where students were gunned down by an bitter-hearted classmate, or upon the continual barrage of hate spewed by Congressional members in pursuit of the biggest headline, and even the chaos of my own daily existence, I question what will become of the warm and sensitive hearts of those that I love, or even those I don’t know? How can I help spare those that I love and those I don’t know from being wounded?

And the truth is, I can’t.

I can’t spare anyone from the Marjorie Taylor Greenes, the Ethan Crumbleys or the Kyle Rittenhouses of the world. I can’t even protect my own children or grandchildren from harm. So then I am left to question how do I at least encourage them to not let their hearts become caskets, least they, too, become like those who have abandoned them, betrayed them, or hurt them in some fashion, and who may intentionally continue to do so?

And moreover, how do I not close off my own heart to the MTGs, the Ethan Crumbleys, the Kyle Rittenhouses, the Ted Cruzes, the Tom Cottons, the John Kennedys of the world?

How does one extend grace to those who intentionally betray the country so many have died to protect? How does one extend grace to those who seek only to elevate themselves and pursue their own selfish interests? How do can we keep our hearts open to those who make betrayal their life’s ambition?

I don’t know the ending to those questions yet. Perhaps I never will.

 

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Christian Bend: A novel (Mercer University Press).

 

 

 

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

4 Comments

AF Roger

about 2 months ago

Yesterday, I met with the ministry team and the music leaders to review and refineour plans for worship from December 19 thru 26. I will be leading three of those services in what has been the hardest time of year for my wife and me ever since we came back the USA from three years overseas--right before the commercial Christmas rush which has only grown ever since. The disconnect between the fairytale Christmas people seem to want and expect and the one we desperately need this year as never before seems only to grow. I find no consolation in the idealized night of angels in the sky, shepherds, livestock, wise men, and a new mother with perfect hair, royal clothes and not a drop of sweat on her brow after delivery. I do find something, however, in the prophetic words of the Magnificat attributed to Mary before she ever felt the baby's first kicks. God is turning the world upside down--and the rich aren't going to like it very much and will not take it lying down. Expect anything but non-violent resistance from the powerful. But God has written a different ending from what they imagine and will fight tooth and nail to bring about. It is described for us in the visionary lyrics of the oldest hymn we have in our books, written sometime between 348 and 413 AD: "Of the Father's Love Begotten." We go looking for baby Jesus to ooh and aah, but God has given us Christ for us to respond, "Oh, my God!" There's our ending. But before we get to all of that, we will toll a bell 12 times this Sunday, once for each of the 11 in Oxford who took bullets, and once for the 15-year-old who fired them. We have this not because love has failed but because love so often hasn't even been tried. Back to the hymn... Of the Father's love begotten... There's our ending. And our beginning.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 months ago

Roger: I'm a little weary of vigils and bell tolling for the murder of young kids by young kids with guns. The one common denominator in mass shootings is easy access to guns. I really don't think of God as turning the world upside down or inside out ... we do a fairly good job of that ourselves. Really, God doesn't need to take any action against the US. We do a pretty decent job of destroying everything ourselves. I actually think God is sorry he ever created us and I don't blame him one bit. But who can God go to for absolution for creating such a mucked up mass of humanity to begin with?

Reply

about 2 months ago

I think there may be a more common denominator in most gun deaths: male socialization in the USA of 2016-2021. I hate to call it human civilization because I'm not sure we are human any longer. I would not describe our problem as one of "access". I would call it a perverse addiction. We are turning to ever more of what is already killing us, and there are no gun laws that can change this. I do occasional aviation machine work in a small shop where the owner has set aside a large area for the manufacture of ghost guns--AR-15 and handgun knockoffs. These semi-finished "gun kits" are not only a cottage industry, they are becoming a major industry in USA. I'm sure there are many, many plans and "kits" that one can now buy or download that result in not a semi-automatic but a fully automatic rifle--a "machine gun". We Americans do this because we think we need to. But "we" (myself not included) have them because "we" want them instead of figuring out how not to need them. Until we ask why and start to give ourselves honest answers that can be dealt with, we will only do more of the same. I'm not weary of vigils. I am weary of not enough vigils and bell ringing to give us permanent tinnitus. Then maybe, finally, we'll notice.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 1 month ago

I have read about these gun kits and watched YouTube videos about how people then put them together. It is terrifying.

Reply

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