i believe the universe wants to be noticed
by the place between sleep and awake
It is the tragic flaw of mankind that each individual has the preconceived notion that he or she is special. From an early age, we are told this by both parents and teachers, people who drown us in the idea that not only can we do or be anything we wish, but we can completely alter the world that so kindly acts as our home. To some extent, I believe these statements. I believe that a person has limited control over his or her destiny, and the choices he or she makes will impact others around them. Depending on the choices and actions, the effects can be felt worldwide, hence the belief in “changing the world.”
But, has anyone ever considered the idea that maybe…the world doesn’t want to be changed?
“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is inprobably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it-or my observation of it-is temporary?”
Recently, I read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. A gut wrenching, heartbreaking novel, The Fault in Our Stars tells the story of two teenagers, Hazel and Augustus, who fall madly in love with one another. Yet, these two teenagers hardly live normal lives: Hazel and Augustus are both cancer survivors. Having lived through so much hardship by such a young age, both of their outlooks on the world were altered.
The title immediately sets the tone of this novel, as it alludes to William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. In Act I, scene ii, Cassius comments to Brutus, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” John Green’s title, however, aims to disagree with the famous playwright, stating that “never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he had Cassius note” that famous line. Instead, Green takes human power away in this powerful work, explaining that sometimes the fault IS in our stars. While a person does have certain control over his or her life, there will always be things, situations, people in which one has no power over. In the life long battle between free will and fate, Green chooses to side with fate, offering quite the story as evidence to support his choosing.
Still ill and in fear of when her internal clock will cease to tick, Hazel fears life, constantly worrying about the pain she will inflict on those around her once she no longer exists. “I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?” Gus proves her foil in every way. Vibrant and inquisitive, he adds color to what could be a dull, black and white painting. “Because you are beautiful. I enjoy looking at beautiful people, and I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence.” His experience has taught him to embrace the present, to live without regrets, and to take pleasure in everything that will someday be denied to him.
In the novel, both Hazel and Augustus read a book that changes their lives. This book within the book parallels our original story by portraying a young girl suffering from cancer who battles normal teenage struggles commonly found in every day life. Narrated by the young girl, this novel is atypical in the fact that it ends not only mid-storyline in which no resolution is found, but mid-sentence. While readers like myself would have been disappointed by this anti-climatic tale, Hazel and Augustus embrace it as it demonstrates a reality they’ve been forced to acknowledge since birth, a reality that most people are granted the luxury to ignore. Death isn’t some far away destination that we will someday feel prepared to travel to. Death visits us at its convenience, and very rarely will we be expecting it, let alone be ready for it.
Hazel and Augustus, both living with the expectation that they could die at any moment, can’t escape this concept. Every day they live with the understanding that it could be their last, while we—who technically are in a situation that could end in exactly the same way—remain completely ignorant.
“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.”
This concept brought an astonishing reality to the front of my mind: I am dying. I, like the rest of the world, suffocate this truth daily, substituting the more comforting ‘someday I will die’ in its place. I plan for the future—fully expecting that a future exists—without consciously acknowledging the idea that I could die at any minute. The only difference between Hazel and I is the fact that she was given more specifics regarding her own time and cause of passing. But still, who is to say she couldn’t get into a car accident and die from injuries before the cancer could attack her lungs further? There is just no telling, no predicting; Hazel is right in the fact that this oblivion is the greatest unrealized fear of humankind.
This mankind ignorance is further demonstrated after Augustus’s passing, when a fellow classmate comments on his social networking site, “You’ll live forever in our hearts, big man.” Hazel’s thoughts regarding that comment revealed a perspective I had never considered as she reflects, “That particularly galled me, because it implied the immortality of those left behind: You will live forever in my memory, because I will live forever! I AM YOUR GOD NOW, DEAD BOY! I OWN YOU!” I can definitely say, I’m guilty of similar comments, and I am certain that ninety-nine percent of those reading this can say the same. However, these seemingly kind words can also be interpreted as extremely arrogant, causing offense to those like Hazel who are forced to look with eyes wide open at the proximity of time before them.
The story is filled with emotional moments, both happy and sad. Both individuals affect one another in such heartwarming, empowering ways. The biggest influence is the one Augustus has on Hazel. Augustus pulls Hazel out of her shell, opening her eyes to the world around her and allowing her the confidence and drive to live for the very first time. However, there is still one major difference between the two, exemplified in the following conversation:
“What?” he asked.
“Your obsession with, like, dying for something or leaving behind some great sign of your heroism or whatever. It’s just weird.”
“Everyone wants to lead an extraordinary life.”
“Not everyone,” I said, unable to disguise my annoyance.
“Are you mad?”
“It’s just,” I said, and then couldn’t finish my sentence. “Just,” I said again. Between us flickered the candle. “It’s really mean of you to say that the only lives that matter are the ones that are lived for something or die for something. That’s a really mean thing to say to me.”
I felt like a little kid for some reason, and I took a bite of dessert to make it appear like it was not that big of a deal to me. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean it like that. I was just thinking about myself.”
While Hazel does finally accept that she deserves her place in the universe, she is content in the fact that her place is a very small one indeed. Hazel finds an ally in the universe, as living and being apart of the world is enough for her. Augustus, on the other hand, finds the world a competitor. He challenges the world. He shows off his humanity, going as far as to carry a pack of cigarettes in his pocket and an unlit one in his mouth. “It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.” Constantly, he taunts fate and dreams to inflate his importance, not wanting to die without imprinting some part of himself on the world around him.
The sad fate of Augustus Waters hints that maybe John Green’s purpose in writing this impacting story was more than just to influence our emotions. It was more than just to encourage us to live life to the fullest. Maybe, just maybe, Green’s true purpose was to show each reader how insignificant he really is, to inspire each reader to be content within his own life, aspiring for dreams which hold great meaning rather than great recognition.
“I can’t talk about our love story, so I will talk about math. I am not a mathematician, but I know this: There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and 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.”