Often we really don't know how the story will end

The first time I saw the film "Shakespeare in Love," I was fascinated by the inaugural performance of "Romeo and Juliet" at the fictional Rose Theatre.

The audience knows Juliet has concocted a plan with the friar to fake her own death so she can avoid marrying Paris and reunite with Romeo. The friar will write to Romeo of the plan. The love story will have a happy ending.

Instead, the message goes astray. Juliet wakes up to find Romeo has poisoned himself after finding her unconscious and believing her dead. She responds by stabbing herself with his dagger.

The crowd reacts with gasps of shock and despair. How could this happen?

Audience members clearly have forgotten the foreshadowing of Shakespeare's prologue - "a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life." They thought they knew how the story would end.

The story surrounding Easter Sunday has some unexpected similarities. Jesus has told his followers in detail about the events leading up to his death and what will happen after, but they can't comprehend what he's saying. They see him crucified on Friday and are shocked to find his tomb empty Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene even mistakes Jesus for the gardener when she first sees him. She and the disciples thought they knew how the story would end.

And then there's "This is Us." In last week's episode, Kate and a reluctant Toby finalize their divorce.

"This can't be the end of our story," he says to her in despair.

"This isn't the end of our story," Kate replies, and in a series of flash-forwards we saw how their lives, lived independently, remain intertwined. Toby thought he knew how the story would end.

An odd trio of examples, I admit. But they all point to divergence that often exists between how we expect stories to unfold and how they actually do - our own stories and those of others.

I wrote a column last summer about how the stories we tell ourselves really do help shape our reality.

"The tapes we play in our brain each day can either prepare us to face adversity or and conquer the world or to surrender at the first sign of difficulty," I wrote.

Social worker and mental health consultant Alisa Messana wrote a piece earlier this month about personal narratives and shared a similar opinion.

"The stories we tell ourselves can either lend to our ability to problem solve or get us stuck in negative patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving," she wrote.

This is true when we tell ourselves stories about others as well. Whether we are talking about an individual person or a group of people, whenever we believe we know how the story will end, we are making assumptions. And those assumptions can interfere with our ability to see things as they really are. And to accept them.

Even though there "never was a story of more woe," things do change in Verona after Romeo and Juliet are found dead. Montague promises to raise a statue of Juliet in pure gold and Capulet promises to do the same for Romeo. By accepting the role their own hatred played in their children's demise, the two men can work toward building a better future. Acceptance is the key to a better future for Jesus' followers and even for Toby.

All stories have unexpected twists and turns - part of what "Ten Percent Happier" author and podcast host Dan Harris refers to as "relentless impermanence." The key is remembering we don't really know how the story will end.

- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean