There are No Happily Ever Afters

First, let me lead off by saying that I don’t think this post is a negative one. At least, that’s not where I think it’ll end up. But it’s going to start off pretty gloomy. I mean, just look at the title up there. No happily ever afters? You mean fairy tales have been lying to me all this time?

If it were just fairy tales, then I don’t think it would be as big of a deal, but our culture is in many ways saturated with a happily ever after mentality, primarily because of the pop culture we consume. I love movies and books (obviously), but almost all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And when you watch or read story after story after story with endings, it’s easy to get to the point where you start waiting for the end of the story you’re living.

Take, for example, the story of COVID. It fits easily into any number of disaster movies, and so it’s not a big leap to try and assume it will follow the same arc of those movies. Disease is discovered. Disease wrecks havoc. Cure is found. Disease is vanquished. Fade to black. But in reality, it doesn’t work out that way. When exactly would the “fade to black” have kicked in? When the vaccine was found? It wasn’t done yet. The vaccines still had to be tested. How about when the vaccines were tested and confirmed 90%+ effective? Nope, still not done. The vaccines had to be administered. How about when they’re administered? Well, just look at what a mess that’s been in America to date to see how well that’s worked out. You could have made an entire second narrative, starting with the “happily ever after” of the vaccine being effective and then focused around the huge problems of actually getting the cure administered.

And even once we iron those wrinkles out, at what point is it “over”? I don’t know that there will be one.

This isn’t isolated to world-changing events, either. It’s very easy to assume you’ll get your “happily ever after” when long-sought for moments arrive. When you graduate, perhaps. When you marry. When you get a job. When you get a book deal. When you win the lottery. When you reach that goal you’ve been waiting a long time to reach. But if you take a look back at all those potential “happily ever afters,” I think you’ll note that it wasn’t, in fact, happy from then on. You don’t get a job, or you miss a promotion, or you lose the job, or your boss is a bone-head, or you squander your lottery money, or your book tanks, or your spouse is annoying, and on and on and on.

Happily ever after just doesn’t come.

So how in the world is this not depressing?

Over a hundred years ago, newspaper columnist Jenkin Lloyd Jones wrote, “There seems to be a superstition among many thousands of our young who hold hands and smooch in the drive-ins that marriage is a cottage surrounded by perpetual hollyhocks, to which a perpetually young and handsome husband comes home to a perpetually young and ravishing wife. When the hollyhocks wither and boredom and bills appear, the divorce courts are jammed.

Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just ordinary people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. . . .

Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

This speaks in many ways to what I’ve concluded as well. It’s important to celebrate the victories you get when you get them, but at the same time keep in mind that those victories are not endings. That the page will turn, and new challenges will continue.

I read recently that “the lie outlives the liar.” You can remove a liar from office, but you can’t remove the lies they persuaded people to believe as easily. The people who attacked the Capitol last week aren’t going to suddenly decide that what they did was wrong. (Though it’s been amusing to me to see how many of them have now spoken up after their arrests to explain that they were really just there to watch what was going on, and that they personally weren’t protesting anything. They walked through open doors. They picked up zip ties they ran across, and were looking for a policeman to return them to. Many many excuses . . . )

Trump will be out of office next week. It becomes that much more important for us to continue to press for truth and transparency from our leaders. To not let the Democrats now do all the things they reviled Republicans for doing for the past four years. To not assume we’ve reached our happily ever after.

Likewise, we need to keep pressing for people to social distance and to wear masks, even though a vaccine is currently being administered. Thousands of people continue to die every day, and hundreds of thousands continue to contract the disease.

In our personal lives, it’s important to not wait for some big life changing event to begin making changes or taking action. It’s easy to say to yourself, “I’ll do that when COVID is over,” or decide to delay things until something else is in place. Sure, sometimes you have to do that. I’ve got a kitchen renovation I really want to do, and money to do it with, but I’ve been hesitating (and will continue to hesitate) until I have more certainty about what the future holds. Committing tens of thousands of dollars to cabinets and countertops when there’s a decent chance you’ll need that money for food and clothing doesn’t seem like a good call.

But I also believe there will always be reasons to not do things you want to do, just as there will always be the temptation to plan up to a point and then assume all your troubles will be over. That just doesn’t happen. But it does mean we can choose to act today to make changes we want to see happen. Just because there isn’t a happily ever after doesn’t mean those mile markers aren’t important. It means we can be happy now, and the happiness we have now can be extended to the happiness we’ll have in the future.

I don’t know. Maybe the post ended up being bleak anyway. I suppose it all depends on how you read it. Just know that for me, as I look at it, knowing there’s no happily ever after motivates me to be find happiness in the present. To not wait for some outside thing to change, but to be the change I want to see. Take that thought for what it’s worth.

Look at it this way: it’s Friday! Weekend! We can be happy about the weekend while still acknowledging that a new week will begin in just a few short days. That’s no reason not to enjoy the weekend, however . . .


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