I can’t seem to finish my stories.
Lately, I’ve opened my computer and sat down to write, and somewhere in the middle of an essay, I can’t find the story anymore. It’s not a lack of ideas, as I’ve probably started six posts this way, nor a lack of details, as the beginnings and middles come quickly and easily.
I simply can’t figure out how to end.
Sometimes I’ll try on a few different endings, but none really fit. Most of the time I delete the whole thing and resolve to try again with a different idea tomorrow.
I’ve developed something of a thrifting addiction over the past few months. I can peruse my favorite thrift store from top to bottom in under an hour because I’m so familiar with the stock and can quickly locate new items.
I almost never leave empty handed.
This store in particular has a wonderful vintage book section, and the friendly cashier who works Tuesday nights always gives them to me for $1 (even though it should be $2.49). I like to flip through ancient copies of Webster’s Dictionary and Christ in All Things, looking for interesting notes or inscriptions.
I think people used to gift books more, or perhaps just write notes in books more, but most of the vintage books I’ve flipped through have at least a short note inside the cover, with to and from and a date.
These little inscriptions, they are often the only memories that remain of lives that lived and loved and read and wondered and were whole and complete stories of which we have only a few words.
I look for the inscriptions because I believe in stories. I look for scribbled notes because words are what first brought Creation into existence and Life into the world, and we are created in the image of a God who used His words to create.
I look for words because words give life, and life matters.
Today I happened upon a battered copy of a book called “Drummond’s Addresses”. I pulled its ripped and tattered cover gently from the shelf and flipped to the torn-out title page, to find a penciled in note on the first in-tact page of the book. In imperfect, gentle cursive is written,
“Gordon Lee, remember this if nothing more- go anywhere as long as it is forward. With sincerest wishes – Ruth”
I came home and searched the internet for this particular book, wondering how long ago Ruth and Gordon Lee journeyed forward.
As it turns out, the ripped out title page likely would have told me that this book was published in 1896.
Humans haven’t known how to end our stories for hundreds of years, and we’ve all lived most of our lives in the middle of them. And yet Ruth, whatever her story, whatever his story, knew what to remember in the middle: go anywhere as long as it is forward.
Either Gordon or Ruth or perhaps some other owner entirely read through Drummond’s words and underlined nearly every one of them, but went so far as to trace the words over in pen in a chapter on doubt, where Drummond writes, “Doubt is can’t believe; unbelief is won’t believe. Doubt is honesty; unbelief is obstinacy. Doubt is looking for light; unbelief is content with darkness.”
Ruth’s words in an ancient book in a tiny thrift store have reminded me that we are not so different as we might think we are. Across time and place and gender and ethnicity, across fear and faith and doubt and truth, what we believe makes us different is actually what draws us together. We are all, all of us, in the middle of our story, and we don’t know how to finish it.
So we go anywhere as long as it is forward, and we look for the light.
Photo by Sharyn B, via flickr.