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Yesterday I dragged my husband to see The Fault in Our Stars.  There were many, many young women in the audience.  There were also older women, much older women, young men, middle-aged men, older men–people in groups, people in pairs, people on their own.  The Fault in Our Stars is a tear-jerker book by John Green now made into a tear-jerker movie starring Shailene Woodley.  She does a beautiful job as Hazel Grace Lancaster in love with Augustus Waters.  But this post is not about the movie.  It’s about what this book and this movie have done to and for people who engage with it.

I bought this book for my oldest daughter for Christmas because I had read good reviews and it seemed up her alley (she’s a Nicholas Sparks kind of gal).  She read it and said I had to read it.  So I did.  I cried.  It haunted me as a girl and as a mother.  Yesterday the movie hit me in the same way but differently.  I knew Augustus was going to be the one to die first.  I knew Hazel would be left to find the strength to go on, to make meaning of this seemingly cruel experience.  

What was most interesting, however, was the audience.  They cheered when Hazel and Augustus shared a first kiss (as did onlookers on screen).  They cheered when they shared their bodies.  They cried when Hazel was sick, then when Augustus was sick.  My husband said it was the first movie he had been to where he could hear sobbing above the sound of the film.  The film was cathartic.  There was communal grief and the expression of that grief was sanctioned because you could hear it from everyone around you.  

On the way out of the theater, the ushers handed out tissues.  Ok, I thought, I got this.  I am fine.  Then I went to the restroom.

The entire restroom was full of women of various ages in various stages of crying–wet eyes, open crying, streaming tears, sobbing, fighting back tears.  Young girls just let it go and clung to their girlfriends.  What really hit me, however, was an older women, short hair, very well put together, emerging from a stall in which she had clearly been crying, her eyes wet, facial muscles taught fighting more tears.  What hit me was her eyes.  They were so deeply sad that I thought, “that’s the thing about pain.  It demands to be felt.”  Had she lost a child to cancer?  A grandchild?  Recently lost a spouse?  The name and relation of the loss was not in her eyes, but the loss was pouring out from every atom of her being.  And she had no one to hug her.  She was a single.

Preparing to write this post, I was looking for images.  My husband had seen a young girl with an okay, okay tshirt, so I knew there was some fanwear out there.  But Google images opened a whole new world of images and quotes.  This book’s title is pulled from a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:  “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”  

What those quotes are are very interesting.

  • I fell in love the way you fall asleep, slowly and then all at once.
  • My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations.
  • You gave me a forever within the numbered days.
  • Some infinities are greater than other infinities.
  • The universe wants to be noticed.
  • You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you.
  • Maybe okay will be our always.
  • Love is keeping the promise anyway.
  • That’s the thing about pain.  It demands to be felt.

It’s the last one that has stuck most with me as I continue to work through my grief for the loss of my father.  Yesterday was my birthday and it was, like every other event since his death, the first one I celebrated without the man who did so much to make me who I am, and not just with DNA.  I went out of town in part, I think, to get away from that fact, but there it was coming back at me all day.  Because that’s the thing about pain…..it doesn’t matter where you are because it’s inside you.  It’s made of you, just like the cancer that killed Augustus Waters that stopped the heart that was also made of him.  And our hearts, which are made of us, are what will help us survive the pain, which is also made of us.  

Because that’s what the living do.  We live.  And sometimes we cry.