Endings. I’m a bit rubbish with them really. Present me with a goodbye or a closure or a case of people going their separate ways and you’ll find me immediately tearing up and in certain severe cases clinging limpet-like to the leg of the departing. (Luckily the exception to this impulse seems to be break-ups where I’m an awful lot better at treating ‘em mean.) This is a problem when you work in education, since every July means the inevitable goodbye to year six, the end of their particular era, and the chance for teachers like me, who should really be old enough to know better, to get all emotional about the passing of time and the inevitability of things reaching their natural conclusion.
If the reference to school life means you’re currently struggling with the image of me as an upright pillar of the community, peering sternly over my non-existant glasses and waxing lyrical about ‘riting, reading and ‘rithmetic then it may help you to learn that I only teach part time. I spend the rest of my working life locked away in my garret spewing forth words of wisdom to the masses. Or at least to the readers of some fairly niche magazines...
I've always been this way though. As a child I used to get weepy at the end of holidays, the end of term, the end of my birthday parties and the end of the box of chocolates. Aside from annoying my long-suffering mother, this has also had a knock on impact in adult life, since an obsession with stories means that you pretty much have to get used to endings, like them or not. The problem is, a really good narrative *needs* a satisfying conclusion; even the NeverEnding Story had its ending of sorts, and very often an unremitting, horror movie cavalcade of increasingly zombified sequels spells the loss of all credibility to a book or movie franchise. As unpalatable as it is to me, sometimes ‘The End’ really is the thing that makes the beginning and the middle worthwhile.
And of course, if you get endings right, they can be spectacular, life affirming and transcendent. I’ve never been a huge fan of Star Trek (it’s a shimmy too far down the slippery slope of geekery) but even I can see the worth of the Next Generation finale ‘All the Good Things.’ In it, mankind* is juxtaposed with the god-like Q-Continuum, and past, present and future are melded into cryptic crossword puzzle-esque musings on evolution and the nature of what it means to be human. “All good things must come to an end,” as Q tells Piccard, and this is an example of how an ending really can be good. (We’ll gloss over the Next Generation films that followed it...)
Similarly, although it seems to elicit a bit of a marmite response from the series’ many fans, nobody could ever accuse the Lost finale of failing to go out with a bang. It’s an ending about endings in many ways, dealing directly with our fears about the permanence of death and separation and the feelings we may never get to resolve. It’s complex, and mind twisting and ok, a little bit of a crowd pleaser perhaps, but maybe that’s ok. When I think about it carefully it’s not so much endings that I’m suspicious of, more the fact that there is never any guarantee of happy ones. We all yearn for endings that render fear and doubt and removal from our loved ones as irrelevant and impossible. The Lost finale gives us that, almost as a reward for the passion with which we wish for it.
The thing is, much as it’s a cliché, it’s also the truth to say that endings are a part of life. Miniature endings pursue us wherever we go, (as those Harry Potter fans who had to be held up as they were led weeping and wailing from cinemas this week could tell you), and this column marks another one of mine. This is my final week of The Reluctant Geek in its current format, so in some ways it seems only fitting that I should finish where I began.
If you cast your mind back through the mists of time, you may remember me talking about my first, striking contact with the idea that comic books might have something to say to me too. The Sandman series drew me in, entangled me in its world, but equally importantly, at the end of it all, it sent me on my way with the satisfying glow that you only get from a really good finale. With its usual eclecticism ‘The Wake’ parallels the death of Dream with another double layer of fiction... a man at the end of his career, Shakespeare contemplates writing The Tempest in which, famously, an ageing magician seeks to make sense of his life and provide for his daughter. This trio contemplate their own endings in their respective universes as the entirety of creation turns up to Morpheus’ wake, to pay their respects and share their memories. And in this sense, Sandman reminds us of the importance of marking our endings as the milestones they are. Endings give us the chance to make sense of it all, even when it seems as though there is very little sense to be made.
Of course, every ending also leaves an empty space. And where there is an empty space, there’s always the chance of a new beginning. Watch this empty space for a new beginning coming soon...
* Yes I used the word ‘mankind’. Ultimately I couldn’t bear to repeat ‘humanity’ more than once, and in this lone scenario my desire for the words to sound good trumped my feminist sensibilities!
This week, Kate is actually quite glad that it’s the end of term, since she might get to have a few lie-ins.