For a bedtime story tonight, I suggested that we read Corduroy. My “too tired” daughter brightened at the thought of reading the book “I like that story!” she exclaimed, “It is a good story, I very like the back [end] when he gets the button!” Which then prompted her to make her own suggestion – that we read the story backwards.
We have been reading stories backwards for some time. I had thought that it was just that she thought it was funny, or was experimenting to see what happened if she broke the rule of reading front to back. And maybe it was. But tonight I got my first inkling that sometimes, she wants to read the story from back to front because she “very like the back” – because the end of the story is her favorite part, and makes the rest of the story worth reading.
It makes a difference how a story ends. The way I read Corduroy tonight was not terribly different from the way the movie Memento unfolds – but a grisly ending makes all that comes before that much more horrifying. Whereas Corduroy’s resolution – a home, a friend, a hug – the acceptance of “I like you the way you are, but you’ll be more comfortable with your shoulder strap fastened…” all these things make Corduroy’s hapless attempt to find his own button neither pitiful, nor scary, but endearing. The ending makes the difference – what if Corduroy’s failure to procure his own button ended in his never finding a home, in his ultimately being consigned to a scrap heap?
Happy endings are not well thought of in movies. They are seen often as contrived, as bourgeois – ultimately, as unrealistic. Reality is ugly, messy – happy endings are escapist, and only satisfying to the intellectually weak. Which might be part of why Christianity is seen as not a religion for thoughtful people – anyone who is telling you that life has a happy ending has been drinking their own Kool-Aid.
But I would suggest that grace is “the better story.” (If I may crib for a moment off Yann Martel.) Would you rather live in a world where you are brought home into the loving arms of one who loves you the way you are? Or in a world where love is untrustworthy, home is fleeting, and no one even knows who you are? A world where “atonement” can only be had in one’s imagination, and amends cannot be made, but only gestured towards. A world without grace.
There is nothing banal about the happiest ending. The problem with movies is that their endings are not endings, and their happiness is at best misinformed – or even misleading. These romances have nothing on the remaking of all creation, of a redemption so thorough that Isaiah envisions vegetarian lions, and Gregory of Nyssa proposes even Satan will be mended and transformed.
“Corduroy is a bear who once lived in the toy department of a big store. Day after day he waited with all the other animals and dolls for somebody to come along and take him home.” What are we waiting for?