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Sunday, January 16, 2011

End It -- When?

Over, finished, worn out, done, dusted, terminated, kaput -- all of these words are synonyms indicating something is unable to function. How does someone know that it is time to stop? To stop the quarrel, to stop the relationship, to stop the fight, to stop the habit, to stop any eventuality? Typically, society does not favorably treat the stoppage of any sustained behavior. Often, someone who abandons an action is branded "a quitter" and suffers damage in terms of respect.
On the other hand, people usually laud those with noble intentions who stand against overwhelming odds, even if their stance puts them in the face of certain defeat. Their struggles produce both martyrs and fools. Cervantes created such a foolish character in Don Quixote, who begins his silly quests while honestly believing in a fictitious code of chivalry. Most readers don't recall the same Quixote, sane and broken, who dies in the end of the story. They prefer to remember the mad man jousting with monstrous windmills.

When does a person decide to quit? Is there any thought process which leads to sane and acceptable resolutions for one who chooses cessation of anything? Imagine what entered the mind of Robert E. Lee before the surrender of the Confederacy. 

Lee said, "We have fought this fight as long, and as well, as we know how. We have been defeated. There is now but one course to pursue. We must accept the situation." Then, Lee resisted calls by some officers to reject surrender and allow small units to melt away into the mountains, setting up a lengthy guerrilla war. He insisted the war was over and energetically campaigned for inter-sectional reconciliation. He knew the conviction of complete closure.

Maybe some exploration of termination can stimulate answers to perplexing questions. This blog often stirs the waters of trivial pursuit and popular culture, so any actual research in this entry is purely coincidental. You may have a perfect batting average when dealing with stoppage, yet most of us make these daring decisions with the heart and gut. Maybe a tip or two lies in the post.

It's Not Over Until the "Fat Lady" Sings. 

This popular colloquialism, essentially meaning that one should not assume the outcome of some activity probably stems from imagery in Richard Wagner's opera suite Der Ring des Nibelungen and the last of Wagner's four operas, Gotterdammerung, is typically the one used in depictions accompanying reference to the phrase.

The "fat lady" is the Valkyrie Brunhilde, who is traditionally presented as a very buxom lady with a horned helmet, a spear, and a round shield (although Brünhilde actually wears a winged helmet). Her aria lasts almost twenty minutes and marks the end of the opera. As Götterdämmerung is about the end of the world (or at least the world of the Norse gods), in a very significant way "it is over when the fat lady sings."

The lesson to be derived from this old saying (besides getting a seat close to the exist at an opera) would have one beware of assumption of premature ending. If closure is final, then everything up to that point is still in doubt. Many times the human spirit can endure more than the mind estimates, so caution upon closure is advisable. The more discomfort and distress that accompanies the endeavor, the more most feel the urge to avoid the pain.

The End And the Fig Tree

A Biblical reference may shed light upon finality. Matthew 24:32-33, "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that the end is near, right at the door." This definition is loaded with terms and connotations that lack specificity.

Profits of Armageddon warn of the end of time, of humanity, and of civilization. Since the Bible foretells that a judgment of fire will come down from Heaven, and then the Great White Throne judgment, in which all people will stand in judgment before Jesus after the investigation and a verdict of their salvation will be made, follows Armageddon, nothing a believer can do will alter the eventual outcome.

The lesson about the final demise teaches faith and trust. I don't believe anyone who studies the Book of Revelation can possibly interpret their earthly significance. Maybe humans are expected to be content with their lives and times while the Big Man has the driver's seat.

"The End" -- The Doors

"This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end

Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I'll never look into your eyes...again"  -Jim Morrison, the Doors

Jim Morrison tackled the subject in the long song "The End," which many people believe draws allusion to the controversial Oedipus complex. According to Sigmund Freud, the Oedipus complex is a common phenomenon, built in by evolution and responsible for much of a person's unconscious guilt. This desire includes jealousy toward the parent of the same sex and the unconscious wish for that parent's death. Its female analogue is the Electra complex.

This complex is named after Greek mythical character Oedipus, who (albeit unknowingly) kills his father, Laius and marries his mother, Jocasta. Classical theory considers the successful resolution of the Oedipus complex to be developmentally desirable, the key to the development of sexual roles and identity. In theory, people who are fixated at the Oedipal level are "mother-fixated" or "father-fixated", and reveal this by choosing sexual partners who are discernible surrogates for their parent(s).

Freud believed that the process of overcoming the Oedipus complex gave rise to the superego, the division of the unconscious that is formed through the internalization of moral standards of parents and society, and that censors and restrains the ego.
Morrison, himself, claimed "The End" was a song about breaking up with girlfriend Mary Werbelow. (Robert Farley, "Doors: Mary and Jim to the End," St. Petersburg Times, September 25 2005. Doors producer Paul Rothchild said in an interview that he believed the song to be an inside trip, and that the "kill the father" lyric means destroying everything hierarchical, controlling, and restrictive in one's psyche, while "f... the mother" means embracing everything that is expansive, flowing, and alive in the psyche.

Ending many things certainly frees people from stress and control. This is often necessary and essential for good physical and mental health. While the images in Oedipus are shockingly graphic, the tale illustrates the need for establishing healthy distances and eventual independence. Freud has never gained complete acceptance of the theory as a source of neurosis. Still, people understand implications of the psychological imperative for breaking from many forms of childlike thinking and for ending guilt. 

The End of Your Rope

What does it mean to be "at the end of your rope"? This expression (late 1600's) alludes to a tied-up animal that can graze only as far as the rope (or tether) permits. In addition a rope is thrown to someone who is in a difficult place such as in deep water or on the edge of a cliff. The "end of the rope" means no one else is available for help or the effort is a final attempt. Of course, the idiom is used to indicate a person is at the limit of his patience or endurance.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld wisecracks with wit, “Well, birthdays are merely symbolic of how another year has gone by and how little we've grown. No matter how desperate we are that someday a better self will emerge, with each flicker of the candles on the cake, we know it's not to be, that for the rest of our sad, wretched pathetic lives, this is who we are to the bitter end. Inevitably, irrevocably; happy birthday? No such thing."

Maybe humans need to become much more proficient at accessing needed change and at initiating behavioral modification. Even nearing "the end of the rope," they may make successful modification. Still, since people are not perfect, they are inevitably going to press their luck, so naturally they must deal with many crises while dangling dangerously over an abyss. At these times in life, many beg for any form of salvation. For some, preparation for redemption has proven vital.  

Roads and Bitter Ends

Some idiomatic ends are fairly evident. When one reaches the "end of the road" or a "dead end," he is in a situation in which no more progress can be made. The only recourse in these situations is to make a change. But, a person who "stays until the bitter end" continues a task until it is completely finished, although it is extremely difficult and takes a long time.

Offering a lesson in etymology, none other than Captain Smith in Seaman's Grammar, 1627, said:
"A Bitter is but the turne of a Cable about the Bits, and veare it out by little and little. And the Bitters end is that part of the Cable doth stay within boord."
Thus, a bitt is a post fastened in the deck of a ship, for fastening cables and ropes. When a rope is played out to the bitter end, it means there is no more rope to be used.

Synonymous with dregs, from Old Norse of the 1300's meaning the muddy muck at the bottom of a drink, the "bitter end" requires that one who drinks each drop must display discipline and extreme perseverance. In life, this end often lies beyond the "dead end" of any road. People must decide what journeys into the unknown require their association of utmost devotion, and they must choose their traveling companions with extreme care. Too often, the first taste of bitterness makes those not devoted jump ship prematurely. Humans should expect danger and risk as they close on any sour finale.


William Ernest Hocking (1873-1966), the idealist philosopher said, "Man is the only animal that contemplates death, and also the only animal that shows any sign of doubt of its finality." Hawking believed humans have only one natural right: "an individual should develop the powers that are in him." To Hawking, the most important freedom is "the freedom to perfect one's freedom."

Hocking based his philosophy upon an understanding and acceptance of God. Hocking believed that God is the underlying unity of Being which is the permanent possibility of bridgemaking for the Modern World as for all others, and without any sacrifice of its triumphs. He is quoted in the following:

"The Modern World has only to learn that, since there are no closed sciences, there are no economic solutions on economic grounds alone, no military solutions on military grounds alone, and what is harder, no legal solutions on legal grounds alone. Nor are conflict and competition to be abolished; but to be held within an all-human solidarity, in which the ‘million masks of God’ find dignity, respect, reverence. "

To most, solutions require endings and new beginnings. Those familiar with solving problems see that new solutions are often begun and administered without success. Is it possible to live with those unsolvable things in a harmonious solidarity which encompasses all fellow men? The understanding of finality presented here is circular but painfully realistic: with many things, no finality exists at all.

Hawking might say the grace to accept a "pseudo-end" to anything negative lies within the power of all individuals involved. Most people reject acceptance of any foreign, vastly different strength of another as a threat to their survival. Ending this mindset requires internal respect and tolerance. It requires building mental agility. And, it requires a belief that, in harmony, much dissatisfaction will continue to endure.


In life, how does someone truly know "when it's over"? The end of anything is largely determined by the perspective of the person experiencing the closure. In most cases, the individual decides his limits, his acceptance, and eventually his endings. To what degree he should endure hardships before determining to complete the task is variable. According to modern conceptions, most individuals lack persistence and responsibility. It is evident many endings are accomplished with very little thought. In many respects, people today view endings as brief respites.

Just contemplate one arena of legal finality and wonder. According to the Center for Disease Control's National Vital Statistics Report of 2002, 50% of first marriages ended in divorce and 60% of remarriages end in divorce. But, the Center for Disease Control also found that 96% of Americans express a personal desire for marriage, and almost three-quarters of Americans believe marriage is a life long commitment.

Commitment? To use a personally detested Internet slang acronym -- WTF?

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