Tuesday, January 22, 2008

At the End, Real vs Right...Fact vs Fiction

The best book endings feel satisfying. They feel Right. They feel like the perfect completion of something wonderful. Too bad real life doesn’t work that way.

I find myself mulling over how suddenly and swiftly life can be over...ended. That might seem rather morbid of me but I am saddened that last Friday was the funeral for my second cousin John O’Keefe, an innocent victim killed by a gunshot in Toronto the previous weekend as he was walking to the subway to return home. There’s an article about it in the Toronto Star. He was only a year older than me. He had a son a year younger than mine. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What were the chances that he’d be in that exact position on that exact stretch of sidewalk to find himself in the exact fatal trajectory of that bullet? A foot or maybe a few inches either way might have made all the difference. What if that night he’d walked faster... or strolled slower? So many elements accumulated to create such a sudden and senseless ending to his life story. It almost doesn’t seem real.

And then there’s my brother-in-law who last week was slammed up against the wall by a charging bull. One thousand five hundred pounds of beef decides to go on a rampage and he’s in the way. He was “lucky.” His was a close call that ended in four cracked ribs and a bruised lung and many months of painful healing to look forward to before he can resume his normal life.

Even I’ve had experience with normal life abruptly snatched away for a time. A few years ago I had a snowmobile accident that ended with a broken vertebrae and left me at first incapable of even cutting up my own dinner. I cannot forget that, just before I passed out, I lay there on the cold icy snow with the fleeting thought that this might be It. I might be Done. Thanks for coming out but sorry, time’s up. My overwhelming feeling was disgust mixed with outrage and incredulity that it could all be so stupid to end that way with so many things just left, dropped, abandoned in the middle, never to be seen through to their conclusion. . .and some things never even started.

So of course I’d love to say that now I’ve learned my lesson and I live each day to its fullest. I’d love to say that I take every opportunity to fully enjoy my family and that I now follow all my dreams because I really do have a good idea that you never know when you’ll take your own final walk home, when you’ll meet your own wall and when your fall will be final. But that would be not be entirely factual.

It would however be great stuff for fiction. Fiction writers work hard to make their fictitious characters grow and learn. They work hard to make their stories seem real. But seeming real doesn’t equal really could happen. What if a book you were enjoying just ended with the main character being shot for no reason at all, just a random chance that had him in the wrong place at the wrong time? It could happen. It does happen. But that book’s ending would suck. You’d be mad at the writer. You’d say it was unfair and that you felt cheated and that it wasn’t right. You’d be right, of course. It’s not right. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

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