About two weeks ago, I finally read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I’d been meaning to for a while—I was going to go whole hog, buy the Barnes & Noble special edition and everything, devour it in a day. But with no Barnes & Noble in sight and a slightly emotionally-masochistic frame of mind, I downloaded it onto my e-reader (sacrilege, I know), read it spaced out over a bit of time, and finished it on the plane to Italy. And it was exactly what it was supposed to be: excruciatingly sad, smart, funny at points (almost in spite of itself), and just a good book. It’s one of those books I wish I could claim from the get-go and be a YA literature hipster about.
But, lack of bragging rights aside, I wound up reading it in a pretty timely fashion. Actually, it was totally intentionally done—and it was reactionary, as well. I finally read The Fault in Our Stars because of two things: because one of my friends gave me a compliment, and because another dear friend lost her mom.
I’ll address the compliment first. After I posted about the BAFTAs and Edinburgh (which is an embarrassingly long time ago, sorry), I had a massive number of blog views—as in, I surpassed 600 hits in a few days. So, first off, thank you. There’s not much more exciting than being a writer who is actually read. But anyway, one of my lovely fellow House residents decided to go through and read the majority of my blog in one sitting. As if that wasn’t flattering enough, she was IMing me as she read through it, laughing at the funny bits and even the bits that weren’t that funny. And to top it all off, we had the later exchange:
“Have you read The Fault in Our Stars?”
“No, I haven’t—I’ve heard it’s really good, though. Why?”
“Well, when I was reading your blog, it reminded me of John Green—the way you put humor into things. It sounds like him.”*
*[slight paraphrase due to memory loss over time. I am not making this up to look good, though, I promise.]
…Not only was that one of the biggest compliments I had ever received, but it made me more resolved to get cracking on reading the book.
And then I got some very sad news. Around two in the morning one night in London, I was talking to a best friend back at school. And she told me that one of a mutual best friend’s mom had passed away, after a really long and heavy battle with cancer.
I didn’t know what to do. So I cried, and I prayed, and I eventually decided to start reading The Fault in Our Stars.
The next day was a blur of me wandering around London and trying not to burst into tears in public—not only because that’s just something I generally avoid, but I think that the stereotypically-stoic average Londoner would not appreciate such an emotional outburst. But I had errands to run, since I was still gathering things in preparation for spring break.
I can barely remember what all I did, or even what day of the week it was. But I do remember shuffling around a card shop, looking for something of some meaning at all to send to her, finding nothing, and settling on a card decorated with a beautiful, foggy landscape that I hope is some shadow of Heaven. And then I went back to the House, shut myself in the downstairs TV room, and cried some more.
Selfishly, tearfully, I wound up calling my mom, both just to talk to her and to get her advice on what to say in my card to my friend… my amazing, sweet friend—someone who is facing something that I have no ability to understand. And I don’t want to understand it, not fully—but what I wanted most was to be there for her, and I didn’t know how. I still don’t.
I’m at a terrifying stage of life where my age group is suddenly facing real-world, adult problems. And I hate it. Someone who hasn’t finished her second year of college should not lose her mom, who should have been able to be there for her much longer than that. There’s such unfairness there, and my heart breaks for her. And it continues to ache for others—recently, a close family friend’s wonderful dad passed away. And a girl in my sorority, who I look up to a great deal, also lost her mom last year.
There’s no “fair” in that. But how do you put that in a condolence card?
Instead, I turned elsewhere—to something that always makes me cry anyway, but I’m pretty sure I spent a solid year crying in that basement-floor TV room. Because as hard as it makes me bawl, there’s an intense beauty to the last chapter of C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle. So, after reading it to myself and mopping up afterwards, I printed it out and stuck it in my letter.
For those of you who haven’t read it, I encourage you to. (If you don’t own the book, you can read it here: http://www.bestlibraryspot.com/fantasticfiction/2010/146/6042.html.) If you haven’t finished the series, I won’t be too spoilery here.
But it paints the most beautiful picture of Heaven.
And that is truly where the unfairness lies, really. Because even though my beautiful friend can’t hug her mom right now, can’t hear her voice and feel her warmth, she’ll be able to one day. We know that; we can place our faith and trust in that. Yet so many can’t—while I see nothing but beauty and hope in that perfect piece of literature, I have other friends, including close ones, who see none of that. They sympathize with a character who doesn’t get to see this yet.
Life is so unfair. We who know and love Jesus have assurance that the joys we feel on earth will not only be echoed but amplified in the days to come.
So I sobbed during the last bit of The Last Battle, while I talked to my mom, and while I pieced together a wholly inadequate letter to my friend. And maybe it makes me masochistic, but that day was so necessary—and I definitely augmented my pain momentarily with the whole C.S. Lewis bit. But that’s one thing that Hazel Grace Lancaster and I disagree on. Maybe pain and loss aren’t necessary to the ability to experience the joys of life. But they, sure as anything, make the tastes of each moment fuller—the sweet are sweeter and richer because we know how much it’s all truly worth.