Friday, June 1, 2012

happy endings

When I sent her a link to "Deliver Us From Evil,", the very good 2006 documentary about Roman Catholicism's endless priest abuses, my sister wrote back wearily. She wanted to show some interest in what I extolled, but she said that these days she was more inclined to "upbeat" entertainment. She's a social worker, a person who confronts bad or conflicting news every day on the ground; why should she inflict another barb when seeking a little relief?

And boy do I sympathize with that point of view! Depressing tales of hard-scrabble poverty and malfunction in some desperate small-town environment may be 'looking reality in the eye' as the promoters can insist, but at a certain age, anyone's bad news cup seems to be full enough, thank you very much. Mindless optimism is pretty depressing too, but something "upbeat," something with a happy ending, something less whiney, is about all I have energy for.

Once upon a time, when I read a lot of books, I used to think that the novels I liked best were the ones that somehow worked off the generalized formula, "good plus bad equals good." Tolstoy (except for "Resurrection"), Willa Cather, Isak Dinesen, the early Thornton Wilder novels, Ursula LeGuin, the quirky Vonnegut, Chaim Potok ... somehow these and others like them banged my chimes. The rub-you-nose-in-the-shit, 'serious' novels -- the ones praised as socially 'important' ... well, I read them, but where my mind might be engaged, still my lounging heart did not open to them.

Happy endings are a curious matter. Maybe human beings have a happy-ending gene. Or maybe they demand happy endings because they are dying for some happy outcome for themselves. Or perhaps it is because there is something deep within that knows that happy endings are the truth ... I don't know.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said approximately, "It's not what's wrong with the world that scares people. What really scares them is that everything is all right." And yes, that is enough to scare the pee down anyone's leg. If that were true -- if everything were all right -- that would imply that there is something seriously out of kilter about 'me.' And that in turn would invite what might seem to be a humongous investigation and course correction. And that in turn would be pretty damned depressing ... the exact opposite of a happy ending. It would probably be easier to find some god or transcendence and worship him/her/it.

Happy endings ... so tantalizing, so satisfying, so much in demand. Happy endings are, well, happy, and "happy" is an effortless matter. No one can 'try' to be happy. They either are or they aren't.

The good thing about getting older is that the parameters of happy seem to widen and blur. The demands dwindle and the possibilities open up.

Or maybe not.

I just sympathize with my sister. I too prefer something a little more upbeat and a little less important. I know that happy endings inspire a vast array of charlatans ... but at my age, a good lie is not so surprising or outrageous any longer.

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