Like a lot of people, I suspect, I have a continual internal debate over the issue of control. I was raised to ‘be responsible,’ to do my homework and my chores and to behave considerately toward others. I have no beef with this. As an adult, it translates to carrying out my obligations and working hard at my job and being a decent human being. Yet, along with these values comes an expectation that if I do these things, I get certain rewards. If I’m willing to work diligently, I can expect a decent living. If I’m a respectful and considerate person, I can expect to be liked and respected, even loved.
It’s been difficult for me to accept the reality of a recent prolonged period of unemployment in which none of my previously successful tools for job hunting have yielded results. And it’s as if the work I do as a writer doesn’t count because it pays so little.
I’m not just kvetching here. There’s a profound lesson in the realization that for however long we’re able to game the system and get things going our way in life, ultimately, the universe is bigger and badder and something will come along to prove how little power or control we truly have.
Economic disaster, disease, death, the loss of loved ones… Life is ephemeral. This is our predicament and challenge, and that of our characters, too. In the face of the inevitability of loss and death, how can there be any possibility of happy endings?
In traditional romance novels, the happy ending was love and marriage and the expectation of children and family. Whatever else might come, these are truly a triumph in the face of death. When individuals age and die, their genetic heritage can continue in their children and their progeny after them for many generations to come. That’s the ‘ever after.’
In many modern romances, it’s enough to have a ‘happy for now’ ending, in recognition that love shared is a joy in itself, and the world is a better place for the more loving people and relationships in it, regardless of how long they might endure or whether any children may come from it.
In fact, as human beings our perspectives are limited. We experience time as one moment flowing continuously into the next, an ever-changing present. But imagine time as a dimension we could transcend, to see the landscape of past and present and future spread out below us. From that perspective there is no death, no loss. There are whole lifetimes eternally woven into a great tapestry, or existing together like books on the shelves of a great library. Each representing a life from cradle to grave. Although the story comes to an end, it still exists, complete with each event, there to be visited again (déjà vu!). The love scenes are always there, adding their light and their warmth to the panorama of an eternal history.