If someone asked me what I thought was the best beginning of a book ever, I would choose what most everyone does, from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Relevant, is it not, even unto this day. It’s the only beginning I can think of, aside from the biblical “In the beginning…” which is, I think, a beginning which takes a lifetime to understand.
But ask me about unforgettable endings, and I can come up with a few that have haunted me for decades. And with each passing year, they get better – that is to say, even more meaningful – to me for all kinds of reasons. See if any of these make sense to you, too.
Here are my top four, without commentary from me:
Also from a Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1859
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
From Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough, 1977:
The thorn bird with the thorn in its breast, it follows an immutable law; it is driven but it knows not what to impale itself and die singing. At the very instant the thorn enters there is no awareness in it of the dying to come; it simply sings and sings until there is not the life left to utter another note. But we, when we put the thorns in our breasts, we know. We understand. And still we do it. Still we do it…
From A River Runs Through It, Norman McClean, 1976
Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn't. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and to the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are words, and some of the words are theirs.
From The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder, 1927
“We ourselves shall be loved and then forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”
Finally, although not an ending per se, I really love what, according to the apocryphal works, Jesus had to say to his disciples on the topic of endings, in this case, life endings:
18. The disciples said to Jesus: Tell us how our end shall be. Jesus said: Have you then discovered the beginning, that you seek after the end? For where the beginning is, there shall the end be. Blessed is he who shall stand in the beginning, and he shall know the end and shall not taste of death.
Now I don’t know about you, but I find that ending perfect.