Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Fixed Point of our Spiritual Constellation: The Fault in Our Stars

Identity is an assemblage of constellations.”

Last weekend, the Times published “New York City in Haiku”, a series of short poems from people of all ages that described certain aspects of living in America’s greatest metropolis. One submission from a 14-year-old Manhattanite reads:

Face seen across tracks,
We stare, and a train passes,
Face gone forever.

That feeling—of life lines converging for a fleeting moment only to separate once more, perhaps indefinitely—is common to all humanity, not only on the subway platforms of New York, but in towns big and small across the country and around the world.

Even these ephemeral connections are like manna to our souls. As recently detailed by behavioral scientists Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder, these interactions with “strangers” (even mere eye contact!) generally produce a more positive experience than remaining in solitude. Social beings, we are.

But as beautiful as these short-lived convergences are, they cannot replace the sentiment felt when, against seemingly all odds, life lines not only converge, but dance in parallel motion, flirting, bumping up against one another, and eventually fusing together in a double helix bond.

The protagonists of John Green’s latest book, The Fault in Our Stars (2012) (a NYT bestseller that is sure to sell a few more copies when it is released as a major motion picture on June 6—see trailer below), are lucky enough to form such a bond—lucky being an odd word to use in reference to teenagers suffering from the scourge of cancer.

Lucky they are, though, in that their shared affliction—tragic as it is—led them to one another. “Were she better or you sicker, then the stars would not be so terribly crossed, but it is the nature of stars to cross…there is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.”

Those “stars” or “constellations” in our lives take many forms—friends, siblings, parents, classmates, neighbors, competitors, strangers. Amidst the many uncertainties of life, the protagonists in Fault find that the “stars” inexorably orbit (and are pulled ever so slightly towards) humanity’s “black hole”, which is to say, closer to death and oblivion.

Nevertheless, one particular star seems fixed—to be trusted even when all the other measures of direction fail. As Augustus Waters says to Hazel Grace Lancaster:

I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.

One of the magical aspects of parallel lines is that even though we know that they go on forever, never to converge, perspective plays tricks with our minds, convincing us that far on the horizon, the lines, having ever so deliberately sidled up beside one another, touch.

And maybe that’s the greatest lesson of Stars—that for all those passing glances on the subway platform, life lines going far and wide, there is an Ultimate convergence that our shared mortality forces us to confront. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” the infinity of love shines brightly, beckoning us home.

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