I can’t keep up with the newspaper on a regular basis, so today I took a stack of three unread Sunday newspapers to my kids’ Sunday school, probably about two pounds of words, at least, to read while I sat on an empty pew in the hallway for ninety minutes. But, I don’t just look at words on unmanageably large pieces of paper, I feel them.
My intentions of reading for general education about the world is usually second compared to my desire to find thought-provoking twists or tidbits of information I could use for writing. However, I find myself thinking about people’s stories and wondering how people deal with heartache and pain and suffering and downfalls and challenges. I feel them so vividly that I often come out of it feeling exhausted. And the tragic stories always seem to resonate the loudest. This is why I feel grief right now when no one in my family has died in a car accident and left me with three injured children. I feel sorrow right now even though no one in my family has succumbed to an opioid overdose. I feel angst even though I didn’t open a baseball scoreboard business in the 1920s that failed. I feel overwhelmed right now even though I’m not seeking U.S. citizenship or asylum from El Salvador. I even felt my heart racing with fear about finding a wandering tiger beside the road. What can I say? I am an emotional person.
But some of these stories have protagonists who don’t always get their happy ending, at least not here on earth. People with real stories and life-changing moments are not just experiencing plot twists on their way to their awesome climax and moment of heroism. Some may have missed their opportunity; some may not ever find it. They don’t always get their special talent staged ahead of time that will help them ascend a mountain of difficulties and complete their character arc. They don’t often find that trusty sidekick who can at the very least offer comic relief. There are people like Donna Jean in the Disabled America section who is stuck in a vicious cycle of scrounging for edible roots on a mountain for a few extra bucks until the disability check hits and who is also hoping she doesn’t suffer another heart attack while taking comfort in hand-rolled cigarettes and a few beers and occasionally getting water from a hose at her brother’s house. I mean, where the hell is her happy ending?
I supposed I’m just a romantic; my preferences in fiction are stories that offer hope. As much as I enjoy well-written tragic endings and I have cried through books, I like the ones with happily ever after the best. So, I pledge to my future protagonists, I will always give you hope. I may put you through the ringer, but I will find a way to stand you back up on your feet with a notion that things will get better. Because for people like Donna Jean, that’s what they might need to hear; if they hear it enough, they might believe in it. And everyone needs hope.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. —–Jeremiah 29:11