Crossing off items on the back to school supply list can provide a strange thrill. It feels delightfully proactive. Three boxes of two ply? Check! I know what’s expected of me. I can deliver.
Except when it comes to notebooks.
I struggle with notebooks. Every year.
There they sit in the store, fresh and gleaming in their rainbow stacks. Tempting me to forget that twenty ba-jillion half used notebooks lurk in my house. All over the place. Someone please tell me, what am I supposed to do with these notebooks? Wide ruled, college ruled, solid, striped, sparkly, spiral-bond, composition style… I swear they get together and make the itty bitty baby notebooks.
For the love of sanity, I have a notebook from a college English class from 1994. It still has paper in it so I still have it. The kids need notebooks, every year, and I’d be the meanest, cheapest mom ever if I sent them to school with a used notebook, one with a page or two ripped out or with a tic-tac-toe match scrawled on the front cover. So I buy new ones because I’m nice. But I can’t bring myself to THROW OUT THE OLD ONES. Yes, they’re a little tattered, and yes every other page has something written or sketched on it, but they hold perfectly good paper and lots of potential and someone someday could/should/might use them up. Finish them.
So year after year I stash them and pretend that maybe one of us might want to write a hand written letter one day and we’ll want to use wide-ruled paper with a scraggly edge.
Unfinished notebooks feels so… unfinished.
This morning I read the book of Jonah. The whole book. All four little chapters. (I can still see the flannel graph depictions from my Sunday school days.) Here’s the rather un-heady summary I wrote in my journal:
God’s will for Jonah was to go to Ninevah.
So God’s will for Jonah was to be thrown overboard and swallowed by a fish.
What if Jonah had obeyed in the beginning?
Jonah finally does obey and goes to Ninevah and the people repent, which was the whole point of his going. But Jonah gets all sulky and whiney and with all of the petulance of a twelve-year-old spouts to God that he’s so angry he could just die.
And then he and God have this little back and forth where God says things like, “you have nothing to be angry about” and Jonah says, “yes I do” and there’s a vine and a worm and the big hot sun.
And then out of nowhere the story ends. No wrap up. No turn around. No Aha! moment. No Jonah getting over himself or gong to therapy for his passive-aggressive tendencies, or coming to a peace with the situation. The story just stops. Cuts off in mid-stream conversation.
No more words. (at least none for us, the reader.)
Jonah’s story is an unfinished notebook.
It drives me crazy. And bolsters my sanity.
Life gives us so much unfinished business, so many things, both big and small, that go unresolved. Narratives that do anything but wrap up nicely or neatly and I guess that’s okay. It’s okay to accept blank pages as blank; to be open to the possibility of what may come, to know that sometimes there isn’t a startlingly clear ending. There may be stories waiting to be told and plans yet to unfold and we don’t need to try to force a The End. Because in reality we’re not the ones writing the story anyway.