In trying to make sense of her own life, Rebecca Solnit offers this insight as she moves to the conclusion of her evocative recent book, The Faraway Nearby.
Something wonderful happens to you and you instantly look back over your life and see it as a series of fortunate events stretching off into the distance like mountain peaks. Something terrible happens and your life has always been a litany of woe. The present rearranges the past. We never tell the story whole because a life isn't a story; it's a whole Milky Way of events and we are forever picking out constellations from it to fit who and where we are.
Solnit uses stories of course to help make sense of things, but she honestly recognizes they are only glimpses of a whole. The map is not the territory as the saying goes. She continues...
Essayists too face the temptation of a neat ending, that point when you bring the boat to shore and tie it to the dock and give up the wide sea. The thread is cut and becomes the ribbon with which everything is tied up, a sealed parcel, the end. It's easy to do, and I've done it time and time again, sometimes with a sense of betrayal of the complexity of what came before, and sometimes when I haven't done it, an editor has asked gift wrap and ribbon.