In one of his comedic monologues when his situation comedy was running number-one, Jerry Seinfeld once opined, "I mean, the only reason we watch a TV show is because it ends. If I want a long, boring story with no point to it, I have my life."
Granted, there is a kernel of truth there. We wouldn't watch a show or movie that has no resolution of any kind and merely wallows in pointlessness (Are you listening, makers of Highlander 2?). And there's no way we'd keep reading or watching something that literally has no ending (Which reminds me that The Never-Ending Story should face a lawsuit for titular false advertising).
Yet each story--oral, written, or celluloid--has a creation. It has a starting point. Each great story introduces some level of ruin, fallenness, or conflict. It has a movement of storm and angst. But admit it--one of the chief reasons we love stories is not just that they end, but that we desire a certain kind of ending.
A redemptive ending.
An ending where, despite the hounds of evil and the shrewdness of the antagonist, the hero really does rescue the girl on the railroad tracks, the prince finds the princess and gives her the kiss of her dreams, and the detective one-ups the murderer to make the arrest and bring definitive justice.
There is something inside us that cries out for a happy ending to our stories. And I don't believe for a second that it's due to insecurity, that we need happiness to keep a lid on perpetual anxiety. I do believe there's a more profound reason for our redemptive yearnings. They are woven into our nature.
Say what you will, from whatever perspective you come from: A secularist might say we look for the good in humanity, a Christian will say that God placed this craving within us, and people of other stripes might have other angles on this discussion. But the point is clearly made: We tend to want--even expect--light to come out of the darkness, the heroes to defeat the villains, and good to triumph over evil.
When my friend L.B. Graham was launching the first volume in his Binding of the Blade series, I asked him to give me a synopsis. He simply said, "Good triumphs over evil."
We watch The Princess Bride and root for Wesley to hold on to his true love and win the lovely Buttercup from the clutches of Prince Humperdinck. Children read Charlotte's Web and breathe a sigh of relief that Wilbur is spared and will live on, establishing relationships with the spider children of Charlotte even after their mother's demise. Those of us who enjoy P.D. James' murder mysteries know the satisfaction of Commander Adam Dalgliesh, in a perfect blend of logic and intuition, discovering the murderer time and again.
Yes, the landscape of our stories is one of hardship, nasty fault lines, and many hazards. It is much like life. Many live in poverty. A startling number of diseases still have no cure or treatment. The world is a tough, wicked place. But we struggle on, wanting life to get better, hoping that it will. We want a happy ending.
Many of us know that yearning more than others. Whenever I visit the grave of my toddler son Jordan, I feel the weight of this broken world. Yet I truly believe that is not the end of the story. Yes, it's part of the plot, but it's not the purpose. When spend those moments at my son's resting place, I remember that a God in whom I've placed my trust has promised to make all things new, including my son, including me.
There will be a happy ending to this story of life, to the grand sweep of human history. And we get to be part of what is written. And we get a whiff of that narrative writ small in every story we tell, read, hear, watch, or write.