W. F. Bellais II
A British Broadcasting Corporation television drama filled my widescreen high-definition television set about a wealthy English family, as they usually do. Dealing with a number of problems in Britain in the 1930s and 1940s there were all sorts of issues including infidelity, pacifism, class consciousness, and sexual exploration. Also as usual, I enjoyed the outstanding performances of the British actors. Because of their performances, I identified, cared about, or despised the characters in the story. Deeply engaged in the plot and the characters I looked forward to seeing each of the characters achieve their dreams, be justly rewarded, or problems resolved.
The DVD disc number three began like the other two and I expected maybe a disc four and very possibly a disc five would be included in the series. In disc three the wedding of the family’s young daughter planning to marry a much older man from an aristocratic family. The family members worried for the daughter over the man’s age and aristocratic class. The wedding began and then, quite suddenly, the credits began to roll and the story ended leaving a list of unresolved issues. Among them, a parent missing while on a secret mission in German occupied France, the tenuous health of the patriarch, and outcome of a budding romance between the chauffeur and the head cook. I wanted to know what happened to those people. At least six “unfinished” stories in this series, maybe even more remained unresolved. My commitment to the story was unrequited.
I think all stories even those ending in death all stories are unfinished. Many end with loose ends tied up; we know what happened to the villain, we know that the love interests were resolved, but we don’t know what happens next. I think the classic movie of the 1940s, “Casablanca”, fits here (by the way, I actually saw that movie in a theater when I was a boy of seven—I probably had no idea what it really was about). In that film the character Rick gets Ilsa safely on an airplane headed for safety in a neutral country, the villainous Nazi has been shot and killed, and the French gendarme officer is about to arrest Rick. The film ends, what’s next? Fortunately, a few years ago I found a book about the characters and what happened next; the book is As Time Goes By, by Michael Walsh. That was one of the more enjoyable books I have read in my personal library. However, even the sequel ends with the question, “What’s next?” There are few exasperating experiences as an unfinished story. For example, I didn’t think much about unfinished stories on the day I finally left the Army. I knew my story was continuing, but what about all the people I knew in the Army, or for that matter I knew from high school, the Marine Corps (yes, I was a Marine for three years), and college.
The four gospel renditions of the Jesus story in the Christian Bible are good examples of an unfinished story. Mark’s story is the most puzzling of the four. There’s more than one ending, and each of them is bizarre. Matthew has Jesus giving the “Great Commission” to baptize the world. Luke has Jesus ascending into heaven, and John tells us there are many more stories to tell about Jesus, but they could not be included in the Gospel. I ask, “Why not?” Luke tells us what happened next in the Acts of the Apostles. But that particular book seems “hijacked” by some other writer about half way through. Instead of being a memoir it is treated as history at the end. Talk about an unfinished story, the Book of Acts fits that category precisely. In chapter 28 Paul and his shipmates are shipwrecked in a storm at sea. They end up on the Island of Malta, where Paul heals a man bitten by a snake, and the people of Malta are impressed. The story ends. What about all the rest of the story? Did Paul get to Rome? Was he able to argue his case in front of the emperor? Did he and Peter resolve their differences? You see what I mean? There’s always more.
This is true in every day existence. We all have continuing stories. Even if we die, we leave behind a continuing story. It is important for us to remember that life is never really over. We make waves as we travel on our individual journeys. We meet people and they have an impact on us as we on them. Most of us have our own families who will live on with their own stories, and we will impact them in some way. Our offspring may not recognize our influence on them and their children, but there is a line, a mysterious connection, that keeps the story alive. I think about my parents, my aunts and uncles, now deceased. To think that they just ended and it was all over is to deny the reality that I am a continuation of their stories, just as my cousins and their children are. All of what I am today is the result of being born into their stories, and my children are another result of that continuing saga or epic.
My grade school and high school teachers, and many college professors, most of who are now deceased, have had a long-term impact on my life. The way I think, write, and organize my thoughts can be tied directly to their influence. I saw a motto a few years ago that reads, “Teachers touch eternity.” That’s a truth that reminds us that the story never ends.
So, when the BBC series ended with a young woman of the family marrying an older man I was left with the task of imaging how it all ended; but, that’s not really true to life. In life we are the continuing stories