Living Backwards

A friend recently gave me a book to read called One Thousand White Women, by Jim Fergus.  It chronicles a year in the life of a woman, May Dodd, who heads West and marries a chief of the Cheyenne indian tribe.  I read the back cover describing the story outline.  I read the Author’s Note, the Introduction, and the Prologue.  Then I went to the last chapter and commenced reading the book backwards forward.  For the signs were all there, the smoke signals perfectly clear in a bright blue sky:  this was not the type of story to have a happy ending.  In which case, I wanted to be fully briefed on the details before investing myself too deeply in our heroine’s tale.

This isn’t new behavior for me, nor I doubt is it particularly unique.  I had to do the same thing with Stephen King’s The Shining (who didn’t???).  I was so terrified of a horrible death for the heroine and her son that I simply had to make sure they were still alive at the end before becoming overly attached to their characters.  In the scariest chapters, I had to read paragraph by paragraph from chapter’s end to its start.

On this morning’s dog walk, it struck me that the older I get, the more this backwards-forward behavior has crept into my everyday world, not just my reading habits.

“Oh, what a shame,” you may say.  “You are missing out on all the mystery, the surprise.”

Not at all, I respond.  I am simply and succinctly aware of the end-game (certain, unambiguous death) and am appreciating each breath while on the way, doing my best to avoid sharp corners, blind curves, slippery slopes, and precipitous falls.  That doesn’t change the fact that there are still plenty of blind curves and sharp corners–and perhaps a few scary doors–that are going to snag me here and there.

I suspect most people, as they age, recognize this increased awareness and caution in themselves.  Anyone who has closely witnessed the decline and death of a parent, a grandparent, any loved one–especially those who have experienced this repeatedly–can’t help but internalize the inevitability of their own end.  And can’t help but take precautionary actions and a measure of control.  Adjusting our hearts, our sights, our behavior accordingly.  Kind of like reading those later chapters first.  (They opened the door!  No, silly, don’t open that door!  Wow, what a pretty door….)

There’s a tremendous bright side to all of this.

“Oh, but of course,” you may chide me.  “There goes Miss Pollyanna in her rose colored glasses enjoying the view on the way to her splat even as she flies off the edge of that one precipice she failed to avoid.”

Yes, well.  As I was saying, there is a certain peace that comes with acceptance and with knowledge.  Peace that accompanies us when we are lucky enough to wander off somewhere beyond knowledge, to a place called wisdom.

So, yes, I know before reading her story that May Dodd (SPOILER ALERT!!) does, indeed, die a horrible death.  But it doesn’t change that I can still enjoy her story, appreciate her perspective, learn from her lessons.  I still get surprises and mystery, I just get them in reverse.  It kind of takes the edge off.

As for me, I’m well aware of my end.  Maybe not the specifics, and hopefully not too horrible.  But there will be an end, as surely as there was a beginning.  What great motivation to take the reins, as best I can, and write my own happily-ever-after.  In the before.


  1. Hi- I just found your blog quite by accident, and glad I did! I very much enjoy your humor, and your posts. I”m sixty, and plan to live full time in a fifth wheel. I’ve never had a blog, and don’t quite know what I’ll write about, buy your stories are entertaining and make me laugh.
    I plan to read previous posts as time allows, and also to follow your future ones.

    Take care

    • Hi Barbara, and welcome! Thanks for your kind words. Good luck with your plans to hit the road full-time. Fifth-wheels make great houses for the road–so much room! Keep in touch and enjoy your preparations — Carol

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