The Point of Life
Updated at the bottom
A friend who shall not be named unless she decides to come out in the comment section was struggling with the point of life. I happened, in the very moment that the email arrived, to be on page 168 of The Fault in Our Stars. Which is to say that it felt like more than kismet that her email popped up at THE EXACT MOMENT I was reading about Augustus telling Hazel how he viewed the point of life. So I wrote her back:
According to John Green, the point of life is to give something great in exchange for your life. You do something amazing, and it’s payment for that life you were given. A fair trade.
Augustus takes his own thought a step further in the ensuing discussion to state that “everyone wants to lead an extraordinary life.” I wish I could back him up there because I think his first point was fabulous, but then he ran with it to where all of us run with it, and that — and that alone, perhaps — is our problem.
I think we set the price of our life payment higher than necessary. I think that the universe expects us to pay perhaps a nickel in order to have it be a fair trade, and we counter that we want to pay $500. How insane is that? Can you imagine going into a store that is asking you to pay $2.89 for a loaf of bread and scrunching up your nose while you say, “you know, I’d really like to give you $10.11 for it.” No, we pay the $2.89 OR we try to negotiate a deal OR wait until something goes on sale. But nowhere else in life do we hear that we are expected to pay X but in turn ask if we can pay the much larger Y.
Until we get to living.
So the universe wants us to pay a nickel’s worth of goodness in order to compensate for this life we’re given. Which is difficult enough to do — to live a nickel’s worth of goodness. To affect the lives of a small handful of people. To touch the lives of your parents or your siblings (if you have any) or your friends. To couple up and become someone’s partner — which is very difficult work to get as well as maintain. Not everyone gets a partner to love and affect, and even those who do, they may not keep them. Or they may not positively affect them.
Raise a child or two, and again, for some of us, it’s not only difficult work to get but it’s also a constant uphill battle to maintain. Some of us may not know how we did as parents until we see our kids through to adulthood and know whether or not we gave the world someone great or if our parenting was a domino that crashed down a long string of figurative dominoes. Will we get to count our parenting as part of our nickel, or will it be another payment we owe the universe?
But let’s assume that parenting (if you get to do it, and if you even want to use that task as part of your payment to the universe since there are so many other ways to reach a nickel’s worth of goodness) works out well, and then throw in a few friends and a few other family members that you positively affect. Maybe a job that you do that changes the lives of a few dozen people around you or some volunteer work.
And all of that amounts to about a nickel’s worth of amazing goodness. It’s what we owe the universe. To leave it as well as we found it if not better, by not only balancing out the negativity in the universe but perhaps tipping it in favour of positivity. Just a very small amount. Not a widely-seen, known by all amount, but a miniscule amount of extra goodness. If we can do that, we’ve fulfilled what we owe in exchange for being given these lives.
The problem, of course, is that we think of the word amazing with a capital A. We want to be like Mother Theresa, Andy Warhol, and Magellan all rolled into one, and we want to be hyper-remembered after we’re gone, with small children doing book reports on our biography for eternity much in the same way that we speak of Helen Keller, Harriet Tubman, and Ronald Reagan. We don’t want to live. We want to LIVE. Big. And feel as if we not only dotted up the crumbs on the brownie platter at the end of this party called life, but that we also threw the festivities and made the party the type of event that gets talked about for eternity.
It wasn’t until I finished writing out this thought to my friend that I read page 169, which has Hazel countering Augustus’s thought by pointing out that she doesn’t have much time left and she hasn’t made the mark that he claims matters. “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.” Again, I think Hazel too is hearing that she has to pay a nickel’s worth for her life — because I would argue that she has made her 5¢ mark on this world based on the way she has affected her parents and friends — and is stressing that she isn’t paying $500 for the honour of living.
If you are concerned that you haven’t sent a nickel’s worth of goodness into the universe, in a few days, Msfitzita will be holding her annual Thomas’s Random Act of Kindness day. It’s very simple. On March 9th, go do something good for another person and tell them that you’re doing it in honour of Thomas. There were, at last look, 250+ people already set to do this. I think helping someone who is gone affect others has to count for at least a penny of goodness. And then think about it, you’re 1/5th of the way to paying off your life balance.
I don’t know… do you think we overshoot what we owe the universe in exchange for our life? What is big “enough” when we talk about living a full, amazing life?
I finished the book. Oh my G-d. I have one of those cry headaches now from it. No one warned me how much I would cry, and it is, perhaps, because John Green has written a book that becomes other people’s An Imperial Affliction. You cry because you care; because he has made those characters so real that you feel you’re in the room with them.
I bought the book with the intention of passing it along to my sister after I read it. But when I was about halfway through, I decided to buy her a different copy because I didn’t want to part with mine. So please don’t ask to borrow my copy. Because I really don’t want it to leave the house. I also started marking it up towards the end. There was a lot to mark up.
Maybe the line I am sitting with the longest is “Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.” Discuss. You don’t even need to read the book to have thoughts on that.
I’d like to add that I quit a book to read this book. The other book was doing nothing for me; it neither annoyed me or made me think. It just was. This book changed my brain a bit.