There’s this movie with Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, and Dustin Hoffman called Stranger than Fiction. Have you seen it? If not, you should watch it; it’s excellent. Will Ferrell is a character in a book that Emma Thompson is writing and there’s this interplay between her story and real life that is creative and thought provoking.
At one point toward the end of the movie, Emma Thompson changes the end of her book in a very drastic way. When someone points out that the end doesn’t make sense with the rest of the story, she simply says, “I know… I’ll rewrite the rest.” This is a bold claim, and I love it: the end of a story should shape all of the other parts. Knowing the end should frame the beginning and middle.
I read an excerpt from Good to Great by Jim Collins this week in which he tells the horrific and beautiful story of Admiral Jim Stockdale who was a POW in the Vietnam war. Jim Collins had the chance to interview Stockdale years after he was rescued and Stockdale explained what kept him going as a prisoner: “I never lost faith in the end of the story… I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life…” Stockdale had faith in the end of the story as a POW in Vietnam, and it allowed him to push forward creatively (read his story to find out how) and relentlessly. We should know the end of the story as educators, and it should allow us to do the same (not the prisoner of war stuff but the creativity and the relentless passion part).
I wonder if, like Jim Stockdale, we can be fueled by keeping our eyes on accomplishing our mission, knowing that ultimately, at the end of our story, students will be better. I wonder if, like Emma’s Thompson’s character in Stranger Than Fiction, we can write our story in a way that will make sense with the end.