The ending — finish strong

By Betty Slade
PREVIEW Columnist
At the end of the day, my Sweet Al looks over at me and says, “We sure do have a good life. When a man has a good wife, a dog by his side and the remote in his hand, he’s a happy husband.”
And, I say, “Yes, we’ve had our problems and sorrows. I could’ve rung your neck many times when it came to your dog. I bit my tongue often, but we have had a good life. We have peace, a great family, we have each other and Jesus is in our hearts. All is good.”
In living, who would have thought we would be saying these words to each other after 60 years. It never dawned on us that we are living our story in light of the ending of our days.
A character in one of Jess Walter’s novel says, “A book can only end one of two ways: truthfully or artfully.”
Hopefully, we can live our lives truthfully and artfully in that, when we live our last words, we will leave an impact on those who have been carefully reading us.
In writing, writers talk about ending strong. What makes a story good or bad, happy or sad? A happy story with a tragic ending is a tragic one. A tragic story with a happy ending is a happy story. This goes to prove that you can’t judge a story by how it begins, but by how it ends.
As I was preparing a lesson for my writers’ group, I came across an incredible story. It proved that the body of work in any story, and even in life, can be sharply eclipsed by the reality of an ending.
Kevin Carter was a struggling photographer from Johannesburg, South Africa. Like many in his field, he lived off the earnings of the ever-so-rare perfect picture that placed a viewer in the middle of something unprecedented. He eventually captured one of those moments which would garner him the coveted Pulitzer Prize. Along with that came an elite status that pushed him to new heights as a photojournalist.
Soon thereafter, Carter could be seen at some of the hottest trendy night spots flanked by girls. Magazine and news editors lined up to meet the young South African, and there was never a shortage of those seeking autographs. This man seemed to have it all.
While on a trip with the United Nations in Sudan, Carter took a picture that could only be described as the shot of a lifetime. Unfortunately, the picture that brought him so much fame became shrouded in controversy. Described as an image you would never forget, this thought-provoking photograph soon started to tear at the conscience of the viewers.
On May 23, 1993, Carter sat and studied a starving child who stopped to rest in route to a feeding bank. As Kevin got ready to take his picture, a vulture swooped into the frame standing by in wait as the death of the child seemed imminent.
There was something about the image that was all encompassing. It wasn’t just a view into a war-torn country flooded by poverty. It was a human story about survival. People started to ask questions about the little girl in the picture. Did she survive? Did anyone try to push the bird of prey away? Within days and weeks of the fame drawn from the picture of the vulture standing by the little girl, Carter became known as the vulture who just stood by.
A few months after being catapulted into fame, 34-year-old Carter was dead. His body was found in his red pickup truck parked near a small river where he used to play as a child. A green hose attached to the vehicle’s exhaust funneled fumes inside the car.
Last words were inscribed on a note left in the passenger seat. It read, “I’m really, really sorry. The pain of life overrides joy to the point that joy does not exist.”
Final brushstroke: Fortunately, not every story ends in such deep sorrow. But, it is important to remember that only God knows how our last chapter will read. Will you be failed by your greatest accomplishment, or know true celebration by persevering beyond great despair?

This story was posted on February 18, 2020.