Let's take a better look
Beyond a story book
And see our souls are all we own
Before we turn to stone

Let's go to sleep with clearer heads
And hearts too big to fit our beds
And maybe we won't feel so alone
Before we turn to stone...

- Turn to Stone, Ingrid Michaelson

Wow. I honestly don't have any other words right now to describe how I feel about finishing that story. I really didn't know where it was going when I started it seven (seven!) months ago, and the outline of an idea that I did have went out the window by about ten chapters in.

There were some basic themes, though, that did manage to make their way throughout the story intact. One of them was, obviously, the name. "The Family in the Tree" had multiple meanings, and I'm not going to go into them because I think that if I did, it would take away from it. So if you got it, awesome. If you didn't... well, it's okay. We don't all read as heavily into fanfic as others. But there is definitely more than one way to be a family, and more than one way to be 'in a tree', I will say that much.

I was also thinking heavily about the concept of morality, and moral relativity, while I was writing this. What does it mean to be moral, to have morals, and what do they really mean when faced with tough situations? When is it okay to break them, and if you can bend a moral code or break it entirely, does it even exist? When you found out that three people had been shot and hung from a tree, it sounded horrible... when Max was shot on the side of the road, it sounded horrible... but there are two sides to every story, aren't there? Didn't you forgive Eric for waht he had to do? And even though you spent something like 30 chapters waiting for some sick, ruthless killer to be captured... how do you feel about Carl now? Didn't he do just what Eric was doing? What Max did? Does that make his actions less heinous? Is there a 'degree' to which murder is considered 'bad'?

These aren't just questions of fiction, but questions we encounter in daily life, and as someone pursuing a degree in Anthropology it's something I think about a lot. Cultural relativism, and the trappings of that relativity. What makes something moral? Is it innately good or evil, and if it is, where does that 'innateness' come from in the first place? Maybe a higher power. Maybe not. We treat these ideas we have of morals and ethics like they are absolute and concrete, but they aren't. Ask a devout Muslim whether a woman can show her arms or not, how morally acceptable that is. Ask an Orthodox Jew if men and women can pray together. Ask someone who calls themselves a Christian whether or not the death penalty is acceptable for someone who murders a child. That is a hard question, and while one aspect of their moral code would say no, the other, more flawed, human aspect might be inclined to give them a swift drop and a southern stop, so to speak.

I guess all I'm trying to say with this half-coherent rambling (it is past 2 AM as I write this) is that we should really examine our motives, and our ethical code, and what we draw up as our morals and what they really mean to us, not just as individuals but as members of society. Why are certain things 'moral' or 'immoral', and when we draw hard lines like that, are we actually helping ourselves or hurting ourselves? Do we want to live in a society with a moral absolute, and if so, whose? How do you choose? And if not, do we regard any morals with any sort of salt? How do we decide which ones are okay to break, and when, and how often? When does it go from being a moral standard, to something that crosses our minds in passing as we do the total opposite?

I think Sarah Leigh is a perfectly moral person, but many would disagree. She has tattoos. She has piercings. She has sex. She shows her cleavage and she swears like a sailor and she works at a bar with low-lifes (or people who society has deemed to be low-lifes, based on this wavering concept of morality we hold onto) but I think she's a damn upright person, push come to shove. I think a lot of you would agree, but if you saw a girl who looked like Sarah Leigh walking down the street in your real life... what would you think of her? Really, what would your immediate impression of her be? Tramp. Slut. White trash.

There is a lot more to what makes someone 'good' or 'bad' than appearances. But at the same time, Sarah Leigh picked up a gun and was ready to kill a man. And I don't think a single one of you stopped at any point during that scene and thought to yourself, "She shouldn't do that because it's morally unacceptable to kill another human being." Maybe you were thinking, "She shouldn't do that because she's going to get hurt", but that was probably the extent of your concerns. I know I'm making a lot of assumptions of you here, but it's likely true. Does that make Sarah Leigh less moral than Eric, who knew exactly who his target was, but was doing it because his wife and children's lives were directly threatened? Sarah Leigh didn't know who she was going after. But wouldn't you regard her in higher moral esteem? Why?

Okay, I'm really rambling now, and it's getting annoying I'm sure. I just think it's such an important question to ask, of yourself and others, and the world at large. What makes someone good or bad? What is a moral motivation for an immoral act, and if the motive is appropriate, is the act too? Under what circumstances? These are kind of big thoughts, especially for fanfiction, but I don't believe that fanfic has to stoop to some sub-human level of intellectual investment just because it's fanfic.

Circumstances have a lot to do with it. I feel like that parallel between Carl McVicar Jr's immediate family (his parents and Mary) and Brennan's immediate family (her parents and Russ) was the most important, for that reason. Their circumstances were similar, the moral questions demanded of their parents and of them were similar, but look how differently they turned out. Our choices define us more than anything. Albus Dumbledore said that much more eloquently in one of the Harry Potter books, actually. "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." The choices we make under the circumstances we're in, they reveal so much more about our morality and who we are than the way we dress, or what we say we believe in, or how we identify ourselves. Choices, based on a shifting moral code that varies not only cross-culturally, but from individual to individual, day to day, moment to moment. We seem like painfully indefinite creatures.

I am stopping now, for your sake and mine. As you know if you have read any of my previous stories, all of my chapter titles are clips of lyrics from songs. I picked each one carefully to suit the chapter, and I always hope that a few of you notice. I think you do. :) Now I will list those songs (or in some instances, poems), in order of appearance. They are all good songs and I hope that you might take the time to listen to them if you are looking for some good music.

1. On My Way - Phil Collins (Brother Bear Soundtrack)
2. Mothers of the Disappeared - U2
3. Two Worlds, One Family - Phil Collins (Tarzan Soundtrack)
4. These Are My People - Rodney Atkins
5. Up! - Shania Twain
6. Secrets - Tears for Fears
7. Life is Short - Butterfly Boucher
8. You'll Be in My Heart - Phil Collins (Tarzan Soundtrack)
9. Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin
10. Once Upon a Broken Heart - The Beu Sisters
11. When I Get Where I'm Going - Brad Paisley f/ Dolly Parton
12. Waiting on the World to Change - John Mayer
13. Photograph - Nickelback
14. Uncertainty - The Fray
15. Rooftops - Melissa McLelland
16. Policy of Truth - Depeche Mode
17. Policy of Truth - Depeche Mode
18. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Poem) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
19. The Truth About Heaven - Armor for Sleep
20. Portions for Foxes - Rilo Kiley
21. With a Little Help From My Friends - Joe Crocker
22. Inside Your Heaven - Carrie Underwood
23. Shadow on the Sun - Audioslave
24. Love Lockdown - Kanye West
25. Away From the Sun - 3 Doors Down
26. Stand - Rascal Flatts
27. I Am Weary (Let Me Rest) - The Cox Family (cover)
28. Use Somebody - Kings of Leon
29. Big Machine - The Goo Goo Dolls
30. Float On - Modest Mouse
31. A Beautiful Lie - 30 Seconds to Mars
32. The Con - Tegan and Sara
33. Calling All Cars - Senses Fail
34. Love is a Beautiful Thing - Phil Vassar
35. Turn to Stone - Ingrid Michaelson

I really do leave this story behind with a heavy, but satisfied, sigh. I loved writing it. I will miss it dearly, and hearing from you. I do hope to hear from you again in the future, though... that was your hint to put me on your author alerts if you liked this story... haha, I'm subtle, I know. But really, this story has been just such a fun, enjoyable experience for me as a writer, and I really hope you got at least half as much pleasure out of reading it. It was a lot different than any other case fic or character-driven multi-chaptered fic I've written in the past... but a good kind of different, I think. Branching out. Covering new terrain, so to speak. I hope to do more of that in the future.

But now it's time for this to end. Thank you so much for reading, reviewing, and just being there with me throughout these past 34 chapters. This wouldn't be worth it without knowing you guys are there reading and enjoying, rooting for them, feeling their pain, laughing at their joy... getting your feedback makes it worthwhile. You make this so much more enjoyable for me, and I hope you know how grateful I am for that support, companionship even.

Remember what is right, and what is true, and what it means to be those things. Remember to look at both sides of the story before you judge. And remember to cover up any open wounds the next time you hop into the St. John's River! ;)