12/29/2012 10:13 am ET Updated Feb 28, 2013

New Year, Age-Old Hope: Accounting for Happily Ever After

A new year looms. And with it, inevitably, perhaps eternally, springs new hope. Hope for a good and happy year -- of, by, and for each of us. Hope, of and by each of us, for those we love. Hope for all of us. Hope for the world.

Of course to some extent, such perennial hope triumphs over experience. Experience tells us the coming year will be at best much like those that came before, a mix of good and bad, a blend of triumphs and disasters. And yet we dare hope just the same -- even to live happily ever after, after all.

Our culture, even as it perpetuates the custom of lofty hope, tends to treat the heights of such naïve reverie harshly, telling us -- in movies and music, on television and talk radio, in books and in banter -- that such is only for the fairy tales.

And, indeed, the bar is set rather high against happily ever after, built -- as the hopes for it tend to be -- on the foundation of our most intimate and fundamental relationship. Built on love.

We fall in love just as they do in fairy tales -- truly, madly, deeply. We fall, dizzy and diverted.

But we fall in love not only discovering every wonderful thing about our partner, each a fresh and captivating epiphany. We fall in love discovering our partner discovering just such things about us. We are, alas, egotistical creatures all. So, that is a heady, intoxicating brew -- and we drink deeply of it. We, from the humblest among us to fairy tale royalty, drink the same inebriating libation.

Perhaps it is redolent with symbolism that the declaration of such obnubilated happiness persisting ever after is inevitably followed by: "the end." For surely, that helps a great deal. Were it not the end, the prince, however gallant, would surely get a runny nose on some occasion, and take to his bed with a box of tissues and an unpleasant disposition.

The princess, however elegant and lovely, would certainly have her headaches or cramps at intervals. There would surely be those days she would want nothing in particular to do with the prince -- and would certainly require him to keep his hands to himself.

Even the fairy tales themselves seem to acknowledge that for the pinnacle of perfect bliss to persevere, the tale must end. For even fictional characters are prone to imperfections -- and that much more so the rest of us.

Which brings us then from fairy tale books, to the bookkeeping we all do. For love, and happiness, and happy ever after all have a chance, depending on how we account for them.

Having seen once upon a time in our lover's eyes the image of ourselves as we would like to be, we strive to achieve it -- and thus for a time, perpetuate the myth. Inevitably, our strength declines, our attention wanders, life intercedes. And we fail, in some small way, to be what we were dreamed to be.

We will fail in just this way and others, again and again. Some failures smaller, some no doubt larger. And we will look again into our lover's eyes to see where we landed.

He or she will decide. He or she will remind us of the rarefied view we share of one another, and offer us a hand up onto our pedestal. We will dance this dance ever more knowingly, ever more conspiratorially as the years go by, knowing the pedestal is something of a distortion. But it will be a loving and shared distortion, and all the better purchase for wearing the patina of an inside joke.

Or, he or she will show us where we landed -- and leave us there. A bit lower each time. A bit lesser after every stumble.

It's all a matter of accounting. He or she may archive every better effort we make, and forgive our inevitable transgressions. Or s/he may tally those transgressions and forget to see the better angels of our nature, striving against circumstance and the inadequacies by which they are encumbered in this neighborhood.

And if we come to see a bit less of ourselves in the eyes that told us what we were worth, we are then worth less, to ourselves and everyone else. And less inclined to try. And more inclined to fail. And so it goes.

So it goes, all too often, between lovers. So it goes between friends. So it goes between us and them. So it goes between peoples and nations, parties and denominations. So it goes and goes, around the world for which our hope wells up again as a new year looms.

Happy ever after is not impossible any more than it is easy, or likely. And certainly, it can be dispatched by projectiles from without. But far more often, if it is undone, it is undone from within; it withers, because we choose to let it. Happy ever after is possible after all -- if we tally the reasons for it in one another's eyes. And remember why we started to keep that tally. And remember to keep on doing so. And remember to remember.

And so as the new year looms, my hope is that we do... remember. What seems to happen only in fairy tale books is accessible to us in the real world -- if our accounting is amenable to it, and we keep the right books.

And so I offer my prosaic hope for good accounting, a happy 2013 -- and ever after -- to you and yours.


Dr. David L. Katz;

For more by David Katz, M.D., click here.

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