by Katrina Barnes
You ever wonder what that phrase really means? How did someone come up with that? At what point is a person at their wit’s end? And how does one reach this destination?
I mean how bad do things have to get for you to be at your wit’s end? How does one discover what the end of their wit is? Is your wit supposed to refer to the end of witticism?
Or is it the end of some imaginary rope that you find yourself hanging from by your fingertips?
Well, whatever it is, imaginary or not, it feels very tangible when you reach it. I found myself standing up, arms raised, fists shaking, guttural sounds being discharged from my throat, all claiming that this phrase was true for me. I was ripped and shredded and at the end. No really all the way at the end.
Add to that the frustration that this was not me. I don’t generally feel so lost. I don’t know everything, no one does and like most people, I get frustrated and for a moment I may wonder what’s next but then my mind usually goes to finding a solution, yet I found myself circling at Wits End.
I won’t tell you how I found myself at the end of my wit. Other than to mention that it was brought about by familial struggles which I’m sure that you can relate. Somedays helping out a loved one and trying to get your own bits and pieces done is a challenge. I’m confident that I’m not alone in reaching this place. You could find some other type of incident that has brought you to your wit’s end.
So acknowledging that I was at my wit’s end, I decided to do a bit of research and find out what being at the end is supposed to mean. Again feeling that I couldn’t be the only one to have reached this destination, I thought I’d share my findings, brief as they are, with you fellow Wit Enders.
The history of the phrase goes back to the Bible, at least according to King James (which as a Preacher’s Kid felt apt and we won’t go into whether or not you believe that King James ordered the manipulation of biblical text). The phrase is found in Psalms 107:27
“They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end.”
This verse is talking about a wavering devotion to God. How we sometimes struggle to keep our faith and commitment. It was also an indicator that when we reach the end of our knowledge, we must rely on faith. There is nothing else we can do. The phrase is also said to refer to being at the end of our emotional limits and frustration arises because of it.
So wit’s end is the emotional and intellectual end of our abilities, at that given moment.
Hum, let me do an assessment: Emotional limit – check; Frustration – check; End of knowledge on how to deal with the situation – check; At the point where you just can’t take anymore and want to scream to let it out – check.
Yep, I was right. I was at my wit’s end.
My faith, intellectually that the situation would work out, stayed strong, but emotionally, I struggled. Having faith has always been an integral part of my life. I remember, sitting in the front seat of my father’s car, I liked to ride with him and watch him drive, and he never seemed to mind my wanting to know the why’s of this or that. I don’t remember where we were going, if we were running an errand or if I was being dropped off at school. Anyway, I remember looking out the window and watching the trees go by. I’d been thinking about faith. Wondering about life and the things you want or wish for and why it was hard for some to believe in faith. I was searching for a way to explain how I felt to my friends and asked him how could I explain something like faith, something that couldn’t be seen. I remember, so clearly, how he looked at me, smiled and took a breath before he asked me how I knew the wind was there. I looked back out of the window, and as I watched the leaves move in the trees, replied that I knew it was there because I saw what it did, and he smiled wider then told me, it’s the same thing with faith. You see the results of your faith, in your life and the life of others. Deep right, but it was perfect timing, a perfect example and it made total sense to me. I carried that with me from that point on.
Writing from Wit’s End is confusing. Everything feels unsettled, and because I found no calm or peace within myself, I wasn’t sure which path to take to get out of Wits End. Most of what I put on paper seemed to be nothing but a rambling mess of vexation. As a writer, when I can’t get to that place where I can let go and let the words free, I want to scream, yet I knew that there might be something for me to learn in that moment. I could have told myself it was useless and wallowed and let Wits End win, but that’s not faith. So, I had to believe that I could find something in my ramblings and write myself out of this anger and disappointment. Then as I purged my thoughts, I somehow saw something in the words. Like a sculptor working a piece of stone until it reveals itself. I took a step back and put my feelings, my angst, and pain into perspective
In writing from this place, physically and emotionally, I tried to see where things went wrong, acknowledge my own failings in it and move forward. Then tried. I said tried not to hold a grudge against the person(s) that brought me to the end of my wit and rise above.
Ah there we are fellow Wit Enders it would seem when we are at our wit’s end we must then find another phrase or idiom that fits where we want to go from there. I’m choosing Rise Above It. I’ll leave the research of that one to you.
As for me, I’ve decided that I don’t like it here. I’m moving from Wit’s End and traveling onward to the next phrase. Destination, Rise Above, now boarding. Here’s hoping I have enough faith for the fare.
Katrina Barnes is a lifelong resident of the Seattle area and has a Master’s in Creative Writing from Goddard College. Her love of writing comes from books, movies, theater, and the stories her parents shared. Her current work is a mystery novel based in the Northwest and other short stories. She is a graduate of the University of Washington, where she obtained degrees in both Communications and Social Sciences.