There’s that moment in every major epic movie where the hero accomplishes his task, finishes his quest or otherwise finds what he’s looking for, and there’s great celebration and fireworks and confetti, and everyone’s happy and celebrating.
Think about the scene at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope, where the protagonists are getting their medals, or the moment when Neo basically declares war and victory simultaneously before flying off into the frame in The Matrix, or the moment when the Doc Brown is running around downtown Hill Valley screaming and celebrating after the lightning bolt sent Marty ‘Back to the Future.’
But then what happens? Apparently, there’s another story to be told. And usually, it’s far darker, and in some cases more difficult, than the original task at hand. (OK, I won’t really say that for The Matrix; I’d kind of rather pretend those sequels just don’t exist.)
My favorite sequel is Back to the Future II. I also love Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, which is in a lot of people’s top spot for best movie of all time. Why is that? The stakes are higher. The forces that were defeated in the first story somehow find a way to reemerge, and this time they’re pissed. Heck, that’s the case even with Jaws 2. Rocky II, also. The second season of Netflix’s Daredevil. I could go on and on.
Readers of this blog are no stranger to the idea that I view life through the lens of story, of seeing things as a grand narrative. Seasons of our life are easily described as chapters, and like all chapters, they have their own beginning, middle and an end. And what comes after a chapter? Another chapter.
The best moments in our lives, the sweetest seasons and the most triumphant accomplishments have a beginning, middle and an end, too. And thereafter lies the sequel.
I’ve been thinking about this in terms of our new life in Idaho. The first year was one that was a lot like the opening installment in a movie series. There were characters who wanted something and overcame adversity to get it. The characters were my family. And that first chapter felt like it culminated in our “one year” party at our house, celebrating the folks here who had so warmly welcomed us and had become fast friends.
Then of course, came the sequel. I think after you’re in a place for a minute (that’s Nashville speak for a prolonged amount of time) you encounter new challenges, goals, opportunities and options you hadn’t when you were still brand new.
We’ve had in this new season parenting challenges, interpersonal challenges, financial whoppers, logistical nightmares, tragic loss and moments of crushing doubt–the likes of which hadn’t remotely been seen during the opening chapter of this particular story.
We’re in the sequel. I feel it. I kind of hate it. But I also know the best stories come wrapped in the struggle, that when the stakes are higher, the better the story and the better the victory. The sequel is where we find out if the characters are built to overcome in life, not just in one situation. This is where we find out if they are truly committed to the cause.
I guess this goes out to everyone who comes off a nearly flawless story arc and into one that is far messier. The presence of our conflict isn’t a sign that things are going horribly wrong. It’s a sign that your story is gaining traction; that there’s more to you and your life than a one-and-done, low-budget film.
I think our human tendency is to see the story going “awry,” compare it to the first installment, and bail, going the “Spider-Man” route and looking for a reboot. Gosh, how many good stories aren’t being told because we don’t push through? I’m probably guilty of this.
The truth is, your story is the thing of blockbusters, but with that comes certain installments of the franchise that have more explosions than others, more instances where you’re wondering if the main characters will get out of this. Chances are they will, but they’ll be forever changed. If it sounds scary, it is, but it’s all part of the greater narrative being written in us.
Embrace the sequel. See it for what it is. Live a good story, one chapter, one page, one word at a time. Let’s go.