10 Lessons From ‘The Fault In Our Stars’

There is no way to know
that your last good day
is your last good day.
At that time, it’s just another decent day.

– Hazel Grace Lancaster
(‘The Fault In Our Stars’, by John Green)

Here are 10 existential lessons inspired by the movie version of ‘The Fault In Our Stars’:

[1] Fear: To some extent, we all, like Gus, dread the inability to live extraordinary lives, that are memorable – enough so for ourselves to depart without regret, and for others to remember us by, such that our lives do not soon fade into ‘oblivion’. Perhaps this is the desire to assert the ego, to impress its deeds upon history, while ironically, the way to truly reverberate in the hearts and minds of others is through selfless love for many.

[2] Loss: Hazel initially tells Gus that though she likes him, she can’t let him develop attachment to her, lest she hurts him with possible sudden death due to her illness – even if he is aware of this possibility. Yet, to not love or to end love due to fear of loss later is already a loss now. Between two lovers, one always departs first. The challenge is to love without, or at least, with less attachment, despite our mortality, and because of our mortality.

[3] Love: As life is truly unpredictable, with a 50/50 chance of death arriving in this moment whether we are terminally ill or not, the truth is, all loving risks heartbreak. Always. Yes, always. Okay? Okay. (Those who watched the movie will get this ‘reference’.) Yet, our love need not be as fragile as our lives are. Our hearts should be all the more stronger and braver, to better cherish the fragile, especially since they are fragile.

[4] Afterlife: Gus expressed definite faith that there must be some form of afterlife, without which life would seem pointless, while Hazel suggested that perhaps there is no point in the first place. Either way, it makes sense to live life fully now, for it is a fuller life that ends the most fulfilled, even if death is the end of it all. Even if not, it is still the fuller life that leads to a fuller afterlife. The fuller life begins with this moment fuller lived – now.

[5] Pain: Does ‘pain demands to be felt’? Pain has no actual demands, while we can demand ourselves to understand it instead, to learn what we can from it, be it physical pain from illness or mental pain from heartbreak. It is through how we respond to pain too, that we come to better understand ourselves – both our weaknesses and our potential for strength, which is necessary for overcoming and making peace with pain.

[6] Life: Hazel’s Mum says she doesn’t understand why her t-shirt has a picture of Magritte’s ‘pipe’ while it says ‘This is not a pipe.’ Hazel replies that, ‘It’s a drawing of a pipe. A drawing of a thing is not the thing itself. Nor is a t-shirt of a drawing of a thing the thing itself.’ Life itself, with all its experiences are likewise. When only represented in written words and moving pictures, they are not life itself, for life is to be lived to be ‘real life’.

[7] Guilt: While we easily understand ‘survivor guilt’ of caregivers, there is ‘non-survivor guilt’ too – the fear on the side of the ill, for possibly letting down their caregivers when becoming more ill, and eventually dying, which might leave them heartbroken or even existentially lost. To overcome guilt on the two sides, may both parties be ever more mutually appreciative, to do their best to relieve each other’s fears, and to offer joy as well.

[8] Significance: Realising he will soon die, Gus lamented that he had always imagined that he would be a celebrated hero, someone special. Hazel assures him that he is already special, especially to her, and that this ought to be enough, given his constraints. He already has her love, his family’s, and having experienced the world as it is. Not only is all this ‘not nothing’, they are significant. ‘It’s a good life’ – when we count our blessings.

[9] Infinity: Though we want more blessed lives, with more years to live, the true blessings come from what we make of what we already have, and they are often more than enough. Time is what we make of it. Some infinities are bigger than others, for within even a short span of time is a little infinity, of countless infinitesimal moments to be eternally grateful for. Why not have ‘pre-funeral’ eulogies to remind one another of them?

[10] Stars: Is ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ when it comes to our misfortunes? Is it not wiser to believe the fault is in our karma? It is always better to see what otherwise seems ‘unfair’ as just, to be somewhat of our own doing, even if indiscernibly so. This is not so much to give ourselves a guilt trip, but inspire a greater sense of acceptance, responsibility and will to outdo our circumstances, to reconfigure our karmic ‘stars’!

The fault, dear Brutus,
is not in our stars,
but in ourselves…

– Cassius
(‘Julius Caesar’, by William Shakespeare)

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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