This past weekend I read John Green’s latest novel, The Fault in our Stars. I laughed, I cried (just ask S – he was a bit nervous when I looked at him with red, watery eyes), and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I still can’t. It’s one of those novels that becomes part of you, embedded in your brain and heart.
And yet, I can’t seem to write a review for my book blog. I can’t form the words I want to say, or discuss the themes that are so important to the work. So I thought I’d write my thoughts here, where, hopefully, someone else might want to contribute.
When reading The Fault in our Stars, I was reminded of a quote from John Green’s earlier novel, An Abundance of Katherines.
“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?”
Green’s stated a few times that, despite the overall wide-spread love of the quote, he himself doesn’t quite agree with it. I think, in a way, TFioS is his way of reversing the quote, showing that sometimes a life thought to be unremarkable can still be quite the opposite.
Being remarkable is hard. We can’t all grow up and be the heroes we read about when younger. The knights who defeat the dragons, the warriors who jump onto the grenade just in time, the superhero who saves the orphans from the burning bus. It’s all imbedded in our brains – we must be heroic. We must be remembered. We must do something extraordinary and leave a mark.
And yet, on the other hand, an unremarkable (or, more accurately, a normal) life can be just as meaningful. In the book’s case, Augustus saves Hazel. Not in the same way his video game character saves the prisoners from impending doom, but he saves her from herself. He takes her away from the everyday sorrow she suffers due to her cancer. He shows her that life can be fun, and she doesn’t have to hide. He, in that sense, becomes remarkable even though he doesn’t believe (or even see) it.
And I love that thought. That we can all be remarkable in our own ways. Little actions are important, sometimes a small gesture could mean the world.
I’m reminded of a time, back when I was a teenager, when I really felt down. I was early in college, living in a house full of people I loved, and just couldn’t find a way to be happy. I just felt disconnected, alone. A friend, completely unaware of my mood, sat next to me and asked how I was doing. It was such a simple moment, but it meant everything to me. Finally, someone just asked.
To this day, the guy hasn’t saved a person’s life or fought off a dragon, but he did make me feel infinitely happier in that split second. And, to me, he’ll always be remarkable for it.
Back to John Green, the book says –
“The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn’t actually invent anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn’t get smallpox.”
I’d never tell someone to stop striving for extraordinary. I think striving for it makes us greater, pushes us further. But never be disappointed if extraordinary doesn’t come. I think that noticing those around you and living a good life, one full of small seemingly unremarkable moments, is just as magical. Just as heroic.
[This is one of the many themes of the book. I’ll more than likely discuss the others later. Not to sound like an advertisement or anything, but if you haven’t read the book, do. It’s beautiful.]