In talking and writing there’s usually the expectation of some kind of conclusion. In arguments/conversations, this can take the form of trying to establish some piece of common ground before parting. It can feel forced — we have to find some common ground, so we come up with something like “Well, at least we agree that one of us is wrong:)”

In essays as well I think conclusions are the hardest part. Like in conversations we feel our thoughts should have a conclusion, and so we tack on conclusions even if we haven’t reached very coherent ones.

This is also true in people telling stories of their own lives. A lot of the time people don’t like to tell their story unless they can put some conclusion on it, and so they end up either not telling their story or, if they share about something like a struggle with melancholy or some family/relationship dilemma, they make it sound as if they have come through in some definitive way when they have not.

I do believe in deliverance, and I rejoice to hear of people who have been delivered for good and all from some malady or trial. Yet often when I read people telling of their struggles, it can seem that they feel that they must put some happy ending on. And so the sadness is put in the past tense, and one of the ups, of the ups and downs of life, is chosen as the definitive end of their story.

Aside from hope or pride that might make us try to put a happy ending on our stories, I guess it’s not thought polite to tell a downer story that ends “And I’m still sad,” but when someone is telling me of a struggle from their past, I sometimes think that they might just be trying to talk (in a more delicate way) about a problem in their present.

I suppose the psychologists and novelists have written about this phenomenon before.

My experience in writing is that I have a much narrower set of conclusions that I come to than subjects I deal with. As in chess, where there are fewer possibilities in the end-game than in the middle-game, so it seems I could talk about an almost limitless list of subjects and they will all funnel down to just a few conclusions.

Discussing things as various as Ars Nova music, the indigenous language of the Canary Islands, Henry VIII’s sixth wife (Catherine Parr,) the Heimskringla, Craftsmen-style houses, French singer Jacques Brel, Pixar’s The Incredibles, property tax, the Amish, Etruscan necropolises, and baseball, if I try to put some conclusion on, I seem to end up boiling them all down to my handful of conclusions.

This isn’t necessarily all bad. Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes, boils everything down to:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

Everything that he says in the sermon-book Ecclesiastes comes down to this one, concise conclusion. You might say “That’s only the conclusion to one book.” but I would reply “read Ecclesiastes” — he’s talking in that book about every thing and purpose under the heaven. If wisdom comes to that conclusion about everything, what other conclusion could one come to about anything? It should be some form or sub-category of “Fear God, and keep his commandments.”


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