Confession: I’m obsessed with The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. After I watched the movie, I listened to the audiobook. And then I bought the book. Now I have the movie. And yeah, I didn’t just listen, buy, and possess. I may have entire portions of this story memorized. (Just nowhere near as obsessed as Hazel is with An Imperial Afflication. So I suppose it could be a lot worse.)
Anyways, I put together a treasury of #tfios interpretations in art form. I have a really hard time with visuals. (Explains why I found audiobooks such a resource.) But it’s cool to see how other people have interpreted this story.
But there are definitely a few things that have really helped me. First, the idea that persons who are chronically ill can love and have as deep psychological needs as other “normal” people. Hazel has a long soliloquy about Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how according to his hierarchy, people are struggling to survive cannot think about art or the meaning of life, etc. But it’s simply not true. In fact, it seems that the fight for life makes those things even more important.
Second, the priest comforts Gus’ friends and family at his funeral by saying that in heaven, Gus is made whole, a conclusion that Hazel scoffs at. At first, I wasn’t sure what Green was getting at. Isn’t part of the next life about being freed from the body of this humiliation??
I was already starting to get [frustrated] at the minister when he said, “In heaven, Augustus will finally be healed and whole,” implying that he had been less whole than other people due to his leglessness, and I kind of could not repress my sigh of disgust.”
And I think that she does have a point here. Somehow, being sick makes you a less valid human in the eyes of some and it’s simply not true. This matches the first point.
Thirdly, the way in which John Green has Hazel defend Monica and her inability to deal with Isaac’s illness is unique and inherently helpful, particularly in light of the first two points. Even though people should treat those with chronic or terminal illnesses like real human beings, a lot times they don’t simply because they can’t. While that may be a weakness or feel unfair, if we are to cut ourselves slack and realize that we can’t be and do everything that we want to, then we also owe it to the rest of mankind to allow them to be true to their own capacity. Because nothing is worse than people pretending like they can do or be something that they really can’t (or don’t.)
Fourthly, I like the way Green deals with “encouragements”. Hazel has a really hard time with a lot of the standard lexicon of words to encourage the sick, but when Gus reveals the extent of his illness, she winds up giving him the whole litany of them. Why? Because the human understanding is often inadequate of dealing with the harsh reality of illness & death.
“You get to battle cancer,” I said. “That is your battle. And you’ll keep fighting,” I told him. I hated it when people tried to build me up to prepare for battle, but I did it to him, anyway. “You’ll… you’ll… live your best life today. This is your war now.” I despised myself for the cheesy sentiment, but what else did I have?
Even with the intimate and personal experience of illness, it can be difficult to relate or to know what to say. I love that Green has Hazel rely on words from support group: “Living our best life today” because it shows that support group really did help her through the most difficult times even though she would be the last one to ever admit it. And in the end, this reinforces point #3. Facing illness is really hard, and sometimes we do want to run away even if we know we shouldn’t.
And lastly, grief and illness doesn’t really change who you are. I love the way in which Green deals with this throughout the book. He talks about Gus’ handsomeness and thoughtfulness, which his sisters admires. He describes Isaac’s desperate need for love and Gus’ craving for the status of hero. He shows van Houten’s miserable, selfish ways before and after his daughter’s fight with cancer.
I was insufferable long before we lost her. Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.
I love this concept because I think we make illness too much a focus of our existence or our life story. But really, as Gus points out, it’s important to focus on you and not your “cancer” story (or whatever). Because who you are is only made more manifest by trouble and trials. Not the other way around.
P.S. Yes, I’m also reading This Light Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Earl, a book based on the writings of a young woman who inspired and encouraged John Green and to whom his book is dedicated.