Oh, TFIOS. I finally caved (and actually had time to read) and I was not disappointed. For me, TFIOS did not reveal some existential life truth or totally change my views on life, love, death, etc., but it did teach me a lesson or two and I was really impressed with John Green's truthful, realistic yet not cynical, way of writing.
In my life, I have witnessed a sort of tragic love story very similar to Gus and Hazel's relationship. And no, living it and being on the sideline are not the same thing, but watching people you love love someone who is sick, loving someone who is sick, and then all together with the people that you love having to watch them die is a terrible, awful thing. I could understand Hazel's view of not wanting to hurt those around her and wanting to minimize the damage but I could also "to my core" understand Gus, knowing it was worth anything to be able to experience all the goodness.
I was worried to read it because I hate books that are overly cynical about death and dying and especially patients with terminal illnesses because I absolutely do not believe that they are always depressed and angry and hopeless. I know that they're not and I hate when they're painted that way, however, I also hate when they're painted as warriors who are so much stronger and more courageous than the average human being, because they're not. They are normal people who are dealing with it the only way they know how (albeit very bravely most times), and painting them in either light puts too much pressure on them to be a certain way when they have so much else to worry about. I would agree that dealing with death in any way, shape, or form is horrible, but there are lessons to be learned from it. There is something strangely beautiful about the way people change when they know their days are numbered, more so than yours or mine, I guess.
I loved the idea of infinities being different sizes for different people and situations. In my life, my sister Mal met a guy named Aaron less than a year before she died and even though they didn't even get a full year together, that time changed both of them so much. For him, he'll be different for the rest of his life, and if that's not an infinity, an infinite experience, than I don't know what is. For me, I got 17 years with her and her creative, confident, strong, and hopeful presence and that changed me forever, and isn't that infinite? So the idea really clicked for me, and I think it's a much more hopeful, positive way of looking at sucky situations.
I also loved the way that Gus stuck with Hazel, and Hazel with Gus, in the face of such scary, hard to deal with things. To me, that is so admirable in a person, the commitment no matter what, and I think that that has fallen away some in modern times. I will never forget Aaron telling Mal how proud he was of her in the last few moments and that moment, that gesture, is something I will always equate as the measure of really loving someone, sticking by them even when it doesn't necessarily benefit you or when it gets hard, staying even when you could walk away, and I really respected that in both their characters.
Lastly, Hazel's view on everyone being obsessed with leaving their mark on the world, even if that mark is a scar, was really amazing to me. So often we do become fixated on making our lives mean something, anything, that all too often we forget to make sure that our mark is a good, albeit smaller one, rather than a large, ugly scar. That is a lesson I learned from Mal without even knowing I was learning it. She affected so many peoples' lives and taught people so many important things about life, and love, and being courageous in the face of adversity, and she did it so humbly and without fanfare, and I really respect that and am proud of that. There will be no monuments in their honor or biographies about her life and death, but the people who knew her were changed and made better by the sheer act of knowing her, and the people who witnessed her and Aaron got to see something really special, got to see what really loving someone looks like and how much it can change a person, and I think that is quite enough. More than most can hope for but something everyone should strive for, I should think.
So thank you, John Green, for making things clear that I already knew and writing something so complicated and tricky so, so wonderfully.
Have you read The Fault in Our Stars? What'd you think?