One of the more harmful elements of works of fiction – be it book or film – is that they condition us to believe that in the space of a couple of hours, everything will suddenly make sense.
The recurring stranger who keeps appearing everywhere turns out to be a secret relative. Missing a bus and meeting a new lover on the next one. Feeling uneasy in a new home then finding out you live on the site of a former ancient burial ground. Everything gets explained in the end. Each of the details are tied together in a tidy bow for you to marvel at in an ultimate “Aha!” as you turn the final page and close the book.
And so there we go in our own lives, constantly seeking to replicate this tidiness by striving to establish the meaning of things that happen to us. Looking at life as a plot, and trying to work out how every feature will fit into that tidy ending, where suddenly, everything makes sense.
But the older I get, the more I realise that actually, some things don’t make sense, and may never make sense, and actually, that’s not only useful but quite liberating to accept too.
Not every loose end will get tied up.
Not everything was meant to be.
I remember being shouted down by a friend in my early 20’s. We had been having a lovely chat until I naively mentioned that I believed everything in life happens for a reason.
“No it does not!”, he snapped, with an argument so compelling I could find no way to respond to it. I have never used or even believed that expression ever again, and wince if I hear anybody else say it. Tragic, unfair and unavoidable things happen in life and that’s the final full-stop for some particular tales. Sad endings. No silver linings. No hidden meanings. No wider purposes in which we might end up being thankful for them happening. Some things are just… shit.
But, I do still maintain that everything in life has the potential to teach us something. It just won’t always be a key feature – or any feature – of the plot. Because the plot doesn’t really exist anyway.
I don’t think life should sought be lived like a story. It does not subscribe to a specific genre and not all of its chapters or paragraphs will have any bearing on the summary. If life were to be any form of written literature, it would be more like a big poetry anthology. There might one in there about a bonfire burning on French farmland in the 1950’s, and another about a cat sleeping in the sunshine on a windowsill in Chatham. On the television, life would be a sketch or clip show. There may be themes, and there’ll be plenty of tales, but they may not always connect, or fall like dominoes.
And once you learn to let go of any need for specific narratives, suddenly everything feels more free. Ideas abound. Opportunities abound. Tiresome rumination about historic events trickles away. A quest for answers that may never be fruitful, gives way for a quest for adventure.
Living becomes electrified from the freedom of replacing the need for everything to make sense or to fit into a particular jelly mould with the acceptance that it won’t always. Some bits just need to be put to the side. Letting go of particular things, and focusing instead on how to make the best of the day ahead, whatever that means to you, be it your favourite dinner, a rejuvenating 5k in the rain, eating a biscuit in the bath, or enrolling onto a course that will broaden your career prospects.
How you feel will always be worth a billion times more than what you’ve done, or what will end up happening in that plot that doesn’t need to exist. You could be sat looking over the Peyto Lake in Canada – said to be the most beautiful place in the world – but if your mind is too focused on a recent rejection or trying to make sense of a cruel comment, you’ll step away from the bank and return home having not even seen any water in a place most can only dream of going. Alternatively, you could be stuck in traffic on the motorway, singing along to your favourite song, rhythm and energy flowing through you.
Throw the script on the bonfire, and with it, throw anything else which reduces the panorama with its distracting insistence to make sense of things that may never make sense, and don’t even need to make sense.
That’s what makes sense…