According to Aristotle, a work of literature should begin in the middle of things (in media res). By beginning in the middle of things, the reader is treated to a story in progress that can organically develop through rising action, plot, and character development to some sort of climax and then a conclusion that allows us to imagine what goes on afterward even as the story meets its conclusion. Some stories end with marriages, other stories end with deaths, and still other stories end in some unsettling middle ground. I have written a fair amount of plays that end with a new beginning, in the hope that the new beginning will work out better than the last one. A surprisingly large number of my plays about Europe, for example, end in colonial or early independent America, in the same Pennsylvania forests that many of my own ancestors came to seeking a better life from a variety of problems, be it religious persecution, political problems like being prisoners of war in anti-monarchical revolts, or the flight from the United States army trying to deport them to the Indian Territory (what is now Oklahoma).
In a way, we all begin in media res. Even at the beginning of our lives, we begin in the middle of things. We are born into families with long histories, as people who belong to certain communities and have certain identities with a history long before us whose past history drastically shapes our lives. Our environments are shaped by large historical events like wars and diseases and the petty dramas of abuse and drug and alcohol abuse and the pageants of marriages and divorces, feeding our fears and longings far before we are aware of the full fruit of our inheritance. Even the most mundane of lives deals with larger concerns and is part of a much larger context.
Being someone whose life has featured an unusually large number of abrupt transitions and new beginnings, I have had a cause to reflect on new beginnings more than most people probably do. For the last year I have lived a stressful and eventful life in some aspects and a very mundane life in other aspects. It is the sort of story that in my worst nightmares ends up like some kind of Lifetime movie, and in my more even-handed moments would best be told in a Rashoman or Hoodwinked or Vantage Point sort of way, with a variety of different stories all told by a different point-of-view character, each of whom knows part of the story and carries their own context and their own history in a complicated picture that only becomes clear towards the end. I have no idea what picture that is, as my own knowledge is partial and I am not a sanguine person in general about how such matters turn out, although no one would be happier than I would be to see a happy ending to the sort of story that is not very promising for such happiness.
Sometimes in life we receive a better ending than we deserve based on our beginnings. This occurs a lot more often in fiction than it appears to in real life, but our stories reflect our hopes and aspirations far better than the more complicated material of our life does. All too often the successful ending of one part of life merely introduces another section of our lives that presents other challenges that must be overcome, and other excitement and challenge to test our resources and our resolve. A successful courtship novel aspect of our lives (something which my life has not known) precedes a family drama where two become one, and seek to raise up others after their own image, wrestling with the ethical demands of adulthood and raising a family in a fallen world full of dangers and threats, and also people not terribly unlike ourselves, for all of their quirks. Other parts of our lives are the tale of a quiet bravery in the face of aging and decay and loneliness and the inevitable end that serves as mankind’s greatest enemy, to be faced in an instant or in a long duel of wills. We begin in the middle of things, and we end in the middle of things as well, leaving so much undone that we wished to do, much which we did not even begin.