I wanted to not be a grenade, to not be a malevolent force in the lives of people I loved.
In May of 2012, my mate est passed on a new book he’d just read called “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green.
So I read it.
When I read a book, I often tear off pieces of the library receipt to use as markers for quotes or ideas within a book that I feel are worth writing down or investigating further. There are usually three or four good quotes or ideas that make an impact on me when reading a book and often lead to me reading other books or novels that develop an idea further or build on something that caught my attention.
My copy of The Fault in Our Stars looked like this:
I passed the book on to Byrd, and it quickly became her favorite book of all time.
Then they made the book into a movie. And now the movie is out on DVD.
I still haven’t seen it. Byrd says when she watches it, she just cries and cries. Not the best endorsement in my opinion.
The book centers around two people and the impact cancer has on their lives. Hazel Grace Lancaster, a terminally diagnosed cancer patient wanting to minimize the impact her eventual death will have on those around her, and Augustus Waters, a cancer survivor embracing every new moment he’s been given. And while there are many other characters and themes throughout the book, and countless websites and forums that centre around John Green’s works (proof of the impact his writing has on his readers), these two themes are the ones that resonate with me most when I read The Fault in Our Stars.
Hazel, while trying to minimize the impact her death will have on her family and friends, still battles with the human desire to be of worth and valued and to be more than just a footnote:
Much of my life had been devoted to trying not to cry in front of people who loved me… You tell yourself that if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but A Sadness in their lives, and you must not become a mere sadness, so you will not cry, and you say all of this to yourself while looking up at the ceiling, and then you swallow even though your throat does not want to close, and you look at the person who loves you and smile.
But what we want is to be noticed by the universe, to have the universe give a shit what happens to us – not the collective idea of sentient life but each of us, as individuals.
…it occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again.
…depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying.
Sometimes people don’t understand the promises they’re making when they make them.
What I like about Augustus’ character is his realization that our individual impact on the world, or the universe for that matter, might be absolutely unnoticeable in the eternal scheme of things, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to make SOME impact, or that our impact on individuals during our time here isn’t minimal:
I fear oblivion.
We’re as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we’re not likely to do either.
You realize that trying to keep your distance from me will not lessen my affection for you… All efforts to save me from you will fail…
All salvation is temporary…I bought them a minute. Maybe that’s the minute that buys them an hour, which is the hour that buys them a year. No one’s gonna buy them forever… but my life bought them a minute. And that’s not nothing.
You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you.
The general underlying theme that I took from the book is the understanding of the impact we have on others regardless of whether or not that impact affects the world – it affects someone’s world:
There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything… we will not survive forever… And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it.
I’ve lost friends and family in the six years since I started this blog. According to world statistics, someone dies every 12 seconds – 5 people a minute; 30 people in the time it takes you to read this blog post.
But harsh as it may seem, we don’t mourn every death, only those that relate to us. A day of remembrance for those who have died, but it is emotionally impossible to grieve for every death in the world as it occurs. But then, it’s the lives that have impact on OUR lives that result in such loss and grief when they’re gone. We are generally a narcissistic people in our grief.
My father’s death was pretty sudden – diagnosed with Lymphoma in March, he was gone six weeks later. But it wasn’t until I walked in to his house prior to the funeral that it really hit me that I would no longer be greeted by the smells of his cooking in the kitchen, nor would I find him reading a book in the living room. I still see or hear or read things that I immediately think of passing on to him, and then realize he’s no longer there to share those moments. A friend of mine who had recently been through a similar loss, losing a friend to cancer within a week of losing her grandmother, summed it up perfectly – one moment you’re singing and dancing with them to Abba in the lounge room, and the next moment they’re gone.
Hazel’s reaction is to minimize her impact on those around her. Augustus’ is to grow his.
We plug through work and jobs and responsibilities to family that are a necessary part of life. I get that. But to say that that’s ALL there is…
To say that I should be happy that I have a paycheque and accept my lot…
Why not shoot for bigger things? Why not try new adventures and experiences? What’s so wrong about stepping outside my comfort zones with acting or building or creating? Why not me? Why not you? Why not any of us?
Why not me? Why not us?
~ Russell Wilson
And WHEN you try, don’t let anyone try and beat down your attempts! All the Pinterest adages that are so popular exist because of exactly that – those around you who don’t (for whatever reason) want to see you succeed in changing. It’s difficult not to drown in the daily status quo.
If I could make a living being an extra in television and movies that made an impact on people’s views, and still do so without giving up the current responsibilities in my life, I’d do it. Not born from any incredibly desperate need for attention or accolades, but for the purely narcissistic reason that I LIKE being part of building impactful moments in people’s lives. I want to make and create and build things that leave people feeling “That was pretty cool!” regardless of whether or not they associate that moment specifically with me.
I’d rather be an Augustus than a Hazel, even if I end up being a grenade in the lives of people I love as a result of creating moments that they miss when I’m gone.