For years I taught the short story plot graph to middle and high school students. You first encounter the exposition—where you meet everyone and discover the setting. Then a conflict is introduced—things get exciting. The action rises (called “rising action”—surprise!) and culminates in the climax! (Trust me—I know that high school boys get the innuendo.) Then there is falling action and the resolution. Some stories have a denouement (a French term I was never sure I pronounced correctly), which is like an afterward—the “____ years later” addition to stories. (I love denouements).
Last fall my good friend Susanna visited. She’s in her first job, working as a third-shift ER nurse, and we talked about how she often leaves so many “stories” unfinished when her shift ends at 11 in the morning, before the doctors or social workers or psychiatrists see the patients admitted during the wee hours of the morning. “Often, all I’ve done is stabilize them,” she told me. “I never hear what happens with them unless they come in again.”
We talked about what that does to our souls when we continually leave stories (the real ones that people live) unfinished. Susanna doesn’t like doing this with her patients, and the stress of constantly living in the rising action of her patients’ hospital stories often makes her weary and numb.
But we also talked about the human tendency to exit stories before the ending or to dream about entering other, more exciting stories.
Susanna and I both have this tendency. We like traveling to needy places, and we’re constantly intrigued by the thought of going someplace new/doing something new.
Part of that desire is driven by the instinct to live only the more exciting half of the story, to move on when the action is no longer rising, when a climax is not around every turn.
To live out full stories, though—through the falling action, into the resolution, even past the denouement—requires determination and commitment.
I think of child-rearing—particularly when the child has a special need or illness or trauma;
Nursing older parents—especially when the years of diminishing ability or memory stretch long;
Marriage past the honeymoon stage;
Keeping the same job when the promotion offers begin passing us by.
These long-term stories sometimes seem short on excitement and long on the daily grind.
Until trauma hits! Then we remember the daily grind with nostalgia. “Oh, if I could only have that again,” we think. “I wouldn’t complain about …”
But when we are in the doldrums of our long stories, excitement beckons. We get weary. We long for … something. We forget that God has put us right in the middle of these stories for a reason. We forget that every daily grind moment has purpose and how we live these times affects the Story-at-Large. We may never know the hows or the whys or the specific effects, but we can know these times have meaning.
Oh, Lord, help us to remember this.