Is there any difference between life and a novel?
May 17, 2014
What do novels have in common with life?
Both are nothing more than one story after another, separated by spaces of time.
Both have characters.
Some get along.
They have conflicts and disappointments and frustrations and numerous pages of grief and sadness.
A novel is all about love, hate, power, greed, jealousy, ambition, and redemption.
And so is life.
The only difference between the two is the ending.
A novel has a final chapter, that last confrontation between good and evil where puzzles are solved, questions are answered, mysteries are resolved, people live happily ever after or go their separate ways, still resolute in their own decisions. Suspects are acquitted or shipped off to prison.
We know what happens and why it happened.
Life, unfortunately, is not always summed up at the end.
When life ends, the holes remain.
Take the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, for example. After more than fifty years, the case is still tainted with controversy and conspiracy theories. Did Lee Harvey Oswald pull the trigger? Was it the man on the grassy knoll? Did someone fire the fatal shots from a manhole in the middle of the street? Was the hit ordered by Russia, by the CIA, by the mob?
We still don’t know for sure.
We probably never will.
And that takes me back to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Was the murder ordered by Southerners intent on exacting their measure of revenge after a long and brutal Civil War? Or was he gunned down at the request of the Secretary of War who was angry because Lincoln wanted to unite the country again? The Secretary was demanding that the South be treated as vanquished foes.
John Wilkes Booth, from all accounts, fired the shot, but was he really killed, or did he escape? There are historians in Granbury, Texas, who swear that Booth rode into town during the 1870s and tended bar under the name of St. John. He drank a lot, quoted long passages of Shakespeare, said he had been an actor, performed one-man shows, and privately, after that one jigger too many, he confessed to being Booth.
But was he?
We still don’t know for sure.
Amelia Earhart was the sweetheart of the skies. But she vanished during a flight around the world, and no word was ever heard of her again. Explorers still search for traces of the ill-fated flight and occasionally think they have found some relic on some remote island. But they come home disillusioned.
And we still don’t know for sure what happened to her.
Children are missing. Their pictures are plastered on milk cartons. They walked down the street on day, and suddenly they don’t exist anymore.
A soldier never comes home from Vietnam.
A husband never comes home from work.
A high school junior walks into a classroom and pulls a pistol from his book bag and shoots as many as he can before someone shoots him.
A neighbor next door walks out into the backyard, sits beside the pool in a lawn chair, downs a jigger of bourbon, and places .38 caliber slug in his brain.
A man loves one woman, runs away with another, and the only time we hear of him again is when we read his obituary.
And at the end of every life’s final story, we are left to wonder: Why? Why? Why?
And we never know why.
Life is a cruel and terrible author.
It writes a great story.
But life hardly ever writes the final chapter.
Even when we think we know, we don’t.