A story cut short

Thursday, March 26, 2020 - 5:49pm

.

File Photo/Daily

When I applied to write the entertainment column three years ago, my pitch was that most of my articles would focus on what I considered a modern day Hollywood concept of the “never ending story.” Any storyteller will tell you that the ending of a story is what gives it its meaning, and I’ve spent thousands of words over the past few years talking about what it means for our collective storytelling consciousness that nowadays money dictates that stories cannot end. “Harry Potter,” “Star Wars,” “Avengers,” none of these stories are allowed to end. They must continue on in some fashion or another as long as they’re still helping the company’s bottom line. But there’s another type of story I’ve neglected through all of this. The story that never gets an ending because it’s cut short before its time had come. The story that ends on a cliffhanger, on unanswered questions, without the catharsis of conclusion, and with characters yet to complete their arcs. But for those of us who were to graduate in the calendar year of 2020, this isn’t just a story, it’s the brutal reality of what our college experience has become.

Like all seniors, and like the many who have already written articles in The Daily on this subject, I’ve struggled to come to terms with the abrupt cancellation of senior spring. Friends left before I had a chance to say goodbye. Club projects and events were over before they had even started. Team’s seasons were cut short, and the idea of celebrating the past four years faded away into an abyss of news stories about a terrifying global pandemic. As I wrote above, I’ve long argued stories don’t have meanings without endings, so do the past four years of my life not have a meaning either? Of course not, and so I am left to admit what should have been obvious to me all along. As a wise man once said, “The world isn’t divided into good people and death eaters.” Or in other words, “stories aren’t divided into those with endings (and therefore meanings) and those without.” 

In the final episode of “Lost”, Jack Shepherd discovers he’s dead and turns to his father in the afterlife, asking him “Did I matter?” His father responds with one of the thesis statements of the series, one that people who wanted the finale to be an all-encompassing source of answers have struggled with. “You mattered, everything that’s ever happened to you has mattered, and the most important part of your life was the time you spent with these people.” Jack’s father is talking about the other characters on the show, but the same idea can be applied to any group of people who share a set of experiences. I know there are many who walk the graduation stage and feel an immense sense of achievement in the courses they have taken, the journey they’ve gone on, the personal accomplishment of getting a degree from this fine University. I totally understand that. But for me the celebration would always have been mainly about the people.  A last chance to make the rounds and celebrate all the wonderful people I came to know and love during my time at this school. 

There’s something about a global pandemic that really brings home the fact that so many of the petty disputes and simple problems we distract ourselves with everyday don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. When faced with an existential threat, you’re made aware with absolute clarity about who the most important people in your life are and why. The people you have around you, the ones you stay in contact with from far away, the ones you love, the ones who make you laugh, who share your stories, who are a part of your stories, and you theirs, those are the only things that really matter in this life. Everything else is immaterial at best, and a distraction from the simple miracle of human connection at worst. 

There’s a quote that some in my family attribute to my Great Aunt Harriett that goes like this, “In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” Upon a simple Google search I’ve found it’s actually a Buddha quote. Go figure. Members of the class of 2020, graduation and senior spring were not meant for us. But that fact shouldn’t make us think any less of what we achieved during our time here. We saw a dog almost get elected CSG president. We saw a buzzer beater to send the basketball team to the sweet 16 and eventually the final four. Once upon a time, we still had Michigan Time. And like Michigan Time, our time at Michigan has come to a close sooner than we would have liked, but that will never change the meaning of the past four years. A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.  

Forever and always, go blue.