Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Fault in Our Perceptions (1st Installment)

Since being at MTSU, I have made it a priority to go home almost every weekend, to visit with my parents and pets. Recently my mom and I have made it a habit to sit down at night and watch a bunch of different movies. They have ranged in genre and time period, but have, fortunately, all been enjoyed. This Black Friday, I purchased quite a few movies and series to enjoy during the break. My mom and I watched two of these Saturday, “Me Before You” and “The Fault in Our Stars”. They were surprisingly similar in plot and situation. To minimize spoilers, I chose certain quotes from “The Fault in Our Stars” to explore and analyze.
The first quote I found philosophical was one where Hazel, the main character, responds to Gus’s fear, oblivion, in a cancer support group. Gus is another main character and the love-interest of Hazel. This is her response, “There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. 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. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.” Wow, is all I had to say after hearing this the first time. Bleak definitely, but what do you expect from a girl dying of cancer at the age of 16. This outlook doesn’t give one much to strive or hope for, however, when you have no hope left it can be seen as reassuring. To believe that, even if you had more time, nothing you could have done would have meant anything in the grand scheme. That you aren’t missing out on your potential by dying.
Another quote I found thought-provoking was one where Hazel is discussing her favorite book, “An Imperial Affliction”. She says, “That’s part of what I like about the book in some ways. It portrays death truthfully. You die in the middle of your life, in the middle of a sentence.” I guess I never thought about death that way, an interrupter. I just thought of it as an end. Perhaps that’s were some of the grief that we feel when someone dies originates, the missed opportunities. Never knowing what they might have done if they had more time. Imagining what they might have accomplished with one more year, one more day, one more moment. It’s kind of intimidating, never knowing when your last moment will come. It kind of makes you want to never take a moment for granted, to never leave things unsaid. It’s almost a motivator to get as much done as quickly as you can in this life. In the end, though, death always gets the last word.
The next quote, this one from the book, is “‘Without pain, how could we know joy?' This is an old argument in the field of thinking about suffering and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not, in any way, affect the taste of chocolate.” I found this amusing and interesting. I had always been under the assumption that you can’t have pleasure without pain. Like Ying and Yang, one is necessary for the other to have meaning. This opinion, based on Hazel’s point of view, makes sense, though. Hazel has stage 4 leukemia in her thyroid and lungs. If I had that life, in constant pain and fear, I too would be more than a little annoyed if someone told me people have to suffer so that they may appreciate the good in life.
An additional piece of wisdom from Hazel, both heart-breaking and understandable, is this, “I'm a grenade and at some point I'm going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?” Hazel says this to Gus when she is attempting to keep him at arms-length. She has lived her life, from the age of 13, knowing she is going to die in the near future. Her biggest fear is not for herself, but for the people she leaves behind, primarily her parents. I think it says a lot about her maturity and bravery, being so young yet concerned with the stability of her family once she has disappeared from the picture. It is not unreasonable, however, considering she has been through more than most adults have in her short 3 years of having cancer. Perhaps, it is a good distractor to focus on the living instead of on herself and her impending demise. It’s curious how the biggest fear of the dying is the people they leave behind and the biggest fear of those who are left behind is losing that piece of their life. Not to say the living are selfish, it’s just interesting how the source of that fear is truly a fear of change. The person dying is afraid that those they leave behind will change, become depressed or suicidal, in response to their death. The ones close to the dying fear that their life is going to be diminished by the loss of that person. A fear of change, not death, makes the process agonizing.
The last gem that I will discuss is Hazel’s elegy to Gus. Gus was dying from cancer that had metastasized throughout his entire body. It is worth noting that this was read to Gus, at his bequest, before his death. Both Hazel and Gus’s best friend, Isaac, gave heart-wrenching and powerful elegies. This is Hazel’s elegy, “There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I'm likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful.” I kind of loved this love/death speech. It made so much sense, how having meaning and a purpose can make even the shortest amount of time worth so much. It also demonstrates how rare but lucky one is if they are able to find someone that makes the same amount of time worth more than if they weren’t present. You feel bad for the conditions that befell Hazel and Gus, for the pain and the grief and everything else they went through. But at the same time you wonder, if they hadn’t had cancer, would they have ever met and even if they had, would their love story have been as epic. Would they have been the same people without the other’s influence? Would their short infinity have been as complete without the other? In my opinion, it seems the best love stories are also the best tragedies. Isn’t that a shame?

All of these quotes have to do with death; what leads up to it, what it is, and what happens after. I was thinking, while watching the movie, why is death so intimidating. People say that death is a part of life. If that is true, does life actually end or is death just another stage, like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly. Like Plato says, why fear death when you don’t know that death is the better option. It’s hard to have a positive outlook towards death when death means missing a piece of what you consider normal, everyday life. Missing a person who made up that life or having that normalcy stripped away. I think that’s why people have faith, to make the change a little more bearable, a little less mysterious.
Word Count: 1434


  1. My daughter was obsessed with John Green, insisting that I read FIOS and see the film. It was good, only occasionally tipping too far into the maudlin end of its genre.

    "if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it" - I understand why a terminal teen might say that, but I can't agree with it as a long-term strategy in the pursuit of happiness. We have to acknowledge the reality of death, before we can transcend it. And we CAN transcend it, in the sense of affirming our larger identity and our continuity with those who will succeed us.

    TOtally agree about chocolate and broccoli (but I like broccoli, can we talk about canned asparagus?): the delight of the former in no way depends on the inadequacies of the latter, and suffering is way overrated.

    Hazel was a very wise young woman, finding infinite joy in her short span of time. THat's our challenge, all of us. Whether we're sick or not, we're all dying. Only some of us are living.

  2. I'm not sure how to link my two comments so I am writing them here.
    I commented on:
    Katie Berry's "Who's Philosophy?"
    Ben Yost's "This I Believe"

  3. C.G. Brooks (H3)9:09 PM CST

    I enjoyed reading this post, both to bring back my memories of TFIOS and to reinforce multiple perspectives on death. In my Developmental Psychology course we discussed the stages of death in a living person's mind; I would enjoy reading how the stages relate to Hazel's struggle.