“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” – Mark Twain
That observation from the famous American writer, Mark Twain, is true on more levels than most of us want to admit. One of the most basic drives of man is to make sense of life. Whether in the most remote valley of New Guinea or the steel and concrete jungle of Manhattan, we instinctively want to see the connection of things.
When it comes to writing, transitions serve to hold our thoughts together so the reader can follow what the author is trying to communicate. A student guide from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explains it this way:
Your goal is to convey information clearly and concisely … Transitions help you to achieve [this by] … establishing logical connections between sentences, paragraphs, and sections of your papers. In other words, transitions tell readers what to do with the information you present to them. Whether single words, quick phrases or full sentences, they function as signs for readers that tell them how to think about, organize, and react to old and new ideas as they read through what you have written.
Basically, transitions provide the reader with directions for how to piece together your ideas into a logically coherent argument. Transitions are not just verbal decorations that embellish your paper by making it sound or read better. They are words with particular meanings that tell the reader to think and react in a particular way to your ideas. In providing the reader with these important cues, transitions help readers understand the logic of how your ideas fit together.
But life, unlike a well plotted novel, seldom has clearly marked transitions. From our perspective, the dots don’t always connect. In my life at least, there have been chapters that lacked coherence and seemingly had no connection to the ones before or after them. All of this proving Twain to be correct: Fiction has to make sense – life often does not.
In the stories of our lives, some of us want to turn to the last page to see if we like the way the suspense novel ends. If not, we set that one aside and look for another one of more interest. Others of us are bored by description and dialogue. All we want is action, action, action! If the story drags a little because the plot is not tight, if the ending is too ambiguous, or something more interesting steals our attention, that story is set aside and condemned to the bottom shelf where all the other stories that maybe we will finish one day when we have nothing else better to do will be read.
This is why man without God is constantly seeking for transitions. Things that will make life make sense. Things that give cohesion. Things that will connect the dots. There are a million things people turn to in seeking to make the story of their life makes sense: family, money, religion, work, sex, philosophy, entertainment … and the beat goes on.
Perhaps there are more transitions in this story called life than most of us see. Like three months ago when my stepfather died. My sister is 11 years old than me and we have lived our lives separated both geographically and personally. To make a long story short, we have not been estranged, there has been no riff that tears siblings apart, just separated by circumstances and life.
That night, after the funeral, God offered a transition. I could have easily missed it. So could she. But a simple opportunity that presented itself in the weariness of that midnight hour provided a transition. Three hours later, the story of our life made a lot more sense. The fault was not with the writer of the story but rather the readers. Are there still gaps, things that don’t make sense, dots that are not connected? Of course there are.
The good news for both my sister and me is that we are good friends with the writer of the story. We both know Him intimately. More importantly, He knows us. Because of that everything doesn’t have to make sense. We know all the dots will be connected one day and until then, we trust Him. How about you? Are you frustrated by the lack of transitions in life? Do you find yourself trying to write your own story, one without ambiguity, without pain, without frustration?
As a friend of mine likes to say, “How’s that working out for you?”