When I took Joey on his morning walk and we strolled over to our coffee shop, it was a grey and rather bleak day so I knew an afternoon jaunt down to the river wouldn’t be happening. I’d been looking forward to reading by the water but it wasn’t meant to be. One of life’s great frustrations is our inability to control the weather. I think that’s why we love Storm from X-Men. She can do all the things we wish we could, especially when we’d prefer it be sunny and breezy but instead, it’s cloudy and spitting rain. Oh well. Not wanting to be trapped in my apartment all day, I considered going to the movies but after seeing Avengers: Endgame last weekend, I didn’t think I can handle another movie. My spirit is still entirely full.
It’s interesting. Much has been and will be written about Endgame—the fandom showing up in record numbers, the filmmakers who stuck the landing, and the impact of the actors who’ve been the face of this whole MCU thing—but as I sat sunken in my seat watching the credits scroll, the immediate feeling I encountered was that of satisfying closure.
When Iron Man first landed on screens in 2008, I saw it with my college friends. The previews looked interesting and we thought it would be fun, but we were in no way prepared for what unfolded in front of us. It was sharp, it was funny, and when the film ended, we looked at each other and commented, “That was awesome!” We, along with the rest of the world, have been hooked ever since. Not that I didn’t enjoy comic book films before then, X-Men and Spider-Man had made huge splashes on the screen by that point, but this was different.
Iron Man subverted our expectations in a way previous superhero movies hadn’t. At the very end of the movie, Tony Stark just tells the whole world he’s Iron Man during a press conference. I remember saying, “Wait. What?” in the theater when that happened because it’s not something Batman or Superman would do. Spider-Man hid his identity behind his mask as well so Tony’s admission threw us off, told us this wasn’t going to be the story we’d become accustomed to seeing on screen, and set the tone for a decade’s worth of surprises and risks-taken.
As the years rolled on and the slate of movies rolled out, not only were they money-makers and fan-pleasers, but it’s become one of the few film franchises without any colossal missteps. Some films are better than others and others feel like connector pieces meant to web one character or story arch to another for the sake of future film team-ups, but each has stood on its own and the characters—heroes, villains and everyone between—have subsequently taken over the zeitgeist.
When I posted a photo of the Endgame poster on Instagram with the caption, “A perfect movie,” one of my friends commented, “I hope, after 40 years, we get just as satisfying a conclusion of Star Wars.” Of course, I want the same thing. There’s something about conclusions; endings that are actual endings.
In today’s culture, nothing really ends. TV shows or film franchises are rebooted or restarted before they’re even cold. I remember watching the “series finale” of American Idol as past winners and contestants performed and the original judges showed up to smile and wave. It was a fitting send-off to a show that reshaped a TV genre (even if the finale glossed over who actually won that final season) but as the credits rolled at the end of the broadcast, Ryan Seacrest said, “Good night America, for now.” For now? The show had been verbally rebooted before the finale even finished airing! There was absolutely no sense of closure.
But Endgame gave that to us. Endgame gave us satisfying closure.
When I got home after seeing the movie, I wasn’t in the mood to watch anything heavy so I turned on Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. I figured I could watch Christine Baranski and Cher sing ABBA songs, order some Chinese food, and allow my mind to replay the moments of Endgame which had stuck to me like leaves to Linus’ sucker in It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.
But in my quest to zone out, I forgot what I was sitting down to watch was yet another conclusion story.
Now, I’m not comparing the artistic, storytelling, or emotional merit of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again to Endgame, but at the end of Mamma Mia when the prosciutto-thin plot is wrapping up, the film provides a very sweet moment of closure in its final song. As the credits rolled and the cast sang and danced together, I was again reminded of the importance of closure.
Closure. Closure. Closure.
That word kept running through my mind as Joey sat next to me begging for chicken and broccoli. I tried singing along to “Fernando,” I really did, but my brain wouldn’t let me commit.
In December, I closed out the online magazine I’d created and run for eight years. It had become an all-consuming passion project; something that changed my life for the better, presented challenges which shaped my thinking about the world, and introduced me to people with whom I will forever count myself lucky to have momentarily shared the same space. But I knew it wouldn’t last forever. It was never meant to.
When it came time for it to end, I knew it definitively, so I spent six months planning and two months executing the final features in a way that provided closure to both readers and myself. As any of my friends could tell you, I was determined to stick the landing. I was driven by single-minded determination to close this chapter of my life in a way that honored what it had meant to me, to not leave any loose ends, and to do so in a way that left me without any lingering regrets.
When that day came and I pressed publish for the final time, I sat quietly at my desk for a long time. No music in my headphones, nothing on my screen, no notifications on my phone, just silence. I took a few heavy breaths, sipped another sip of my hazelnut latte, and rested in the feeling of closure. It’s not a feeling with which I’m well acquainted so I was surprised by its overwhelming calm and stillness. [“Ending Well”]
I’ve experienced chapters of my life coming to a close just like everyone else but that feeling of calm and stillness has mostly evaded me. Graduations never felt like chapters closing in that I’d already mentally flipped the page and was busy writing the next introduction. The same was true about moving to New York. I wasn’t closing the chapter on my life in Texas, I was simply opening myself up to a new start. But true closure, something coming to a satisfying finite end, that’s been tough to find and to feel.
Yet it’s happened to me twice before the magazine ended.
When I finished my tenure as a leader in my college performing group, it came to an end amidst discord and disappointment. Though I’d moved on, it would be a decade before I’d find internal closure. It came out of nowhere but when it happened, it was calm and still. [“Letting the Echoes Go”]
Before that, when my decade-long run as the leader of the drama teams at the church in which I grew up came to an end, it happened in a calamitous and scarring fashion. It would also take a decade before I’d find healing closure but again, when I found it, it was calm and still. [“The Tiny Foxes”]
In both of those situations, the restless nature of things unsettled were quieted and in the place of those unresolved ghosts now sat clarity and perspective. Sitting in my apartment, thinking about Endgame as the cast of Here We Go Again sang “Super Trooper” in shiny outfits, I was thankful for the reminder of how rare closure is and how lucky we are when we actually get to experience it.
I will always think fondly of Endgame because it provided the masses with closure to this saga but I’ll mostly be grateful for the reminder of how precious closure really is. As I slyly fed Joey small pieces of broccoli on my couch, I was able to travel back in time to revisit those moments of my own life, not unlike the characters in Endgame, and what I brought back with me was a fresh dose of perspective.
Ryan’s book of essays, I Feel God in This Cab, is available here.