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PAPERWORK: There’s a better word for how it all ends

Conclusion. The end. Climax. Finish. 

Resolution. Solution. Finale. Culmination. 

Blah-blah-blah. Excuse me, while I poke my delete key and scrape away those lackluster words.

Try this … denouement. 

Ahhh. Yes. Much better. 

Means the same thing but more and has the perfect sound. 

(Say it out loud, like this: day-new-mow. I think that’s close enough. It’s French.)

A beautiful word for a beautiful moment.

It’s a word that’s threaded into every book, movie, play or narrative that tells a story. 

It’s that moment when everything comes together. When you get the message. When the plot untwists. And you can say, “Oh yeah. Oh yeah.”

Little light bulbs go on. Maybe a neon sign flashes, “Here’s what it’s all about.” 

Maybe there’s trumpets. 

In other words, it’s a big deal. A memorable moment.

It’s that moment when what you’ve been reading is a complete story. With meaning and purpose, even if the purpose is just for fun.

And it comes, generally speaking, at the end of the story. Not necessarily the last line or paragraph. But the story is pretty much over. The telling is clear. 

That’s how I define the word. Apologies to Webster and all lexicologists.

And for me the word has always applied to stories. But not always the ending of tale. 

Sometimes I see the denouement as the ah-ha moment, when the big picture or message becomes clear. 

So the other day this word pops into my head and I start thinking about it. 

And then a question pokes me and I have to write it down, because it feels important. Like it deserves an answer. Something I will have to write about later. 

So later is now. Here I am, trying to figure it out. At least what it might mean to me. 

The question being: So if your life is a story, a story you write each day, what will be your denouement?

All good stories need a telling, a poignant denouement. 

But not all lives are good stories, are they? Good meaning always happy and rainbows and puppies. Stuff like that.

But wait. All stories have ups and downs. Heartaches and heartbreaks are part of the journey, part of the tale we tell. 

And plot twists galore. Because you can’t sit down and write, chapter by chapter, your own life story.

I know, yes … I know. There are a lot of self-help books out there, counselors and parents and probably some TED talks that might send a different message. 

You are responsible for your life journey. You decide whether to go left or right or stand still. 

You-you-you, all of you are the author of your life story. 

OK, we all need that motivational bump and nudge now and then. Inspiration and perspiration. Git ‘er done stuff. 

But have you ever planted yourself in front of a blank page and tried to write a complete story, start to (let me say it) denouement?

Writers — all of them — will tell you that writing begins a journey full of characters and bumps in the road and choices. You end up following, not leading what you are creating. 

I think life is kind of like that. Predictable … until it’s not.

Controllable … until it’s not. 

Fun, exciting, exhilarating … until it’s not. 

Never-ending … until it’s not. 

So, I’m thinking off the cuff here. Just throwing out thoughts as they hit me. 

Maybe life is not a story we write but is a narrative — a current — we are caught up in. 

Like a river, I suppose, going somewhere, ending somewhere, with lots of stuff — and other people — in between. Stops along the way. 

I’m not sure we control that river. Certainly we cannot make it go the other way. 

There will be a denouement. But for me, that won’t be when the breathing stops. 

For some, I suppose, there’s a heavenly denouement in some afterlife. But my focus is on this world. 

And for me, like I said, the denouement is the telling, little moments of truth and meaning that become the big picture. 

The ah-ha moment when I suddenly realize, oh yeah, that’s what this story is all about. My story. 

So my denouement is not the last chapter. Part of it, yes. But not the whole. 

Perhaps it will be detailed in a eulogy. As best it can be. 

I am hoping that is not the finish. 

The Conclusion. The end. Climax. 

Resolution. Solution. Finale. Culmination. 

Nah. My story has to be wrapped up in memories — good and bad — stretched over a beginning, a middle and (dare I say it) an end. 

Yes, there has to be an end. No more story to add, I suppose. 

But a story that stays on a shelf somewhere. I hope.

So I don’t want my denouement to conclude with what happened or how or why. 

I want my denouement to bring it all together and tell everyone who happened. 

Denouement. A beautiful word for a beautiful moment.

LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the former managing editor of The Times, now retired. Please email thoughts, comments or ideas to or mail care of The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.

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