Life Is Like a Novel

I used to think life was like an anthology. Now I think it’s more like a novel.

Anthologies present one unrelated story at a time. You read a chapter, close it, and don’t need to return to it. Because the next chapter introduces new characters, new scenes, new story. We’re talking realistic fiction in one chapter, sci-fi the next.

Life can seem that way, especially for those of us who move with any sort of regularity.

Here’s how it goes: Move a couple times during grade school. Maintain a pen pal for a while. Maybe move off to college. Write in your classmates’ yearbooks that you’re best friends forever. Graduate college. Maybe take a job in another city. And so on. It’s exhausting.

Novels, however, provide continuity. There can — and should — be motifs that run throughout the novel, foreshadowing in chapter 2 of something yet to happen, a flashback in chapter 7 of something that already happened.

Life, too, connects one season, one segment, one chapter, to the next — and the next and the next and the next.

Yes, it takes effort to maintain novel-like continuity in our lives – to keep in touch with old friends, call on their birthdays, send cards at Christmas. To keep in touch with old parts of our selves even, to reflect, journal, go to therapy. But, I’m thinking the consistent effort of keeping in touch with our past is less than the concerted effort of periodically starting over from scratch.

Cost-benefit analysis aside, the novel life is rewarding. It can be surprising and adventuresome. A college friend calls you up to say she’s in your town visiting cousins and can you get together. Surprise: an adventure. Or you bump into a high school classmate who you had little in common with back-in-the-day, and find that the years have constructed quite the common ground. Surprise: a friend. An old friend turned new friend. A not-bound-by-time friend.

The novel life, too, is psychologically healthy. Instead of being angry by a chapter of life and closing it in a huff (as I’ve too often tried to do), you learn from it. You at least acknowledge that the old chapter’s part of your story and something about it influences something about you today.

The story of life says we sometimes have to flip back a few chapters to understand where we’re at now. And we have to read on expectantly to understand where we’re headed.

Flip back, flip back. Learn.

Read on, read on. Live.

 

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