The Fault In Our Stars, Cancer and #feels…

I just finished “The Fault in Our Stars”, by John Green, a couple days ago.  I previously had only read “Looking For Alaska” by him, and given the popularity of the novel I had more than a few inklings of what the book had in store.  I was entirely taken aback by the vibrant personalities that were found there.  A friend of mine(in response to reading “Paper Towns”) accused John Green for making his readers like high-schoolers, which I have to chuckle in agreement.  They are rather tolerable in his books, even in their irreverent, carefree and immature ramblings.  Augustus and Hazel Grace specifically, are two of the most vivid characters I have encountered in a book in a long time:  Augustus with his fantastic visions of glory and immortal legacy, alongside Hazel and her (realist) pessimism that seems to cloud her every step…

Normally, I’m not taken into the trope of cancer victims(not to trivialize it) as readily as most given my mother’s condition of multiple sclerosis(MS).  This is also aside from my grandmother dying of bone cancer when I was twelve; though I was rather small and barely remember her sadly, from what I hear she was a really swell woman.

Back to the book, it drew me into the (not)stereotypical reality of cancer, remission, terminal, surviving, struggling and persisting against all odds and pressures.  I was continually amused and curious to the ponderings of oblivion from Augustus and Hazel Grace.  I plunged into the depths anguish and frustration as the cancer had it’s way with the characters within the story.  It was such a tragic paradox that the cancer, which is obviously made up of the cells of the person, kills them, this was a reality that was not lost on Hazel Grace and gave me pause as I read.  I couldn’t help, but compare it to my Momster and her struggle with disease, dignity and the demons that seem to emerge from the cracks.  If nothing else, the novel deepened my understanding of illness.(Yeah, even though I grew up with a sick mother I still have learning to do).  By the time TFIOS ended I couldn’t begin to comprehend what was happening on an affective/emotional level.  I felt frustration, sadness and loss, though without a way to express it or process fully.  Instead, I sat on my stoop with a lit cigarette between my lips(unlike, Augustus I do give it the power).

The romance that played a large part in the story(though to me it wasn’t the whole thing), impacted my heart a lot as well.  I haven’t talked a lot about love in a long time on here, but that’s partially because I’m still going through things that still need to be cleaned from my last relationship.  Given it was months ago, sometimes it takes time to get back to normal and it takes a lot of time to clean yourself up and reflect on where you should be.  The love story in TFIOS is one that at first I thought was too perfect and I was bitter and cynical of it.  As I turned the pages, I started to realize what I had forgotten of high-school and what it was like(funny that it was only five years ago, but college does that).  The overshadowing of cancer and ticking clock gives another dimension to how two persons can come together, so honestly and completely.  Sure, Augustus and Hazel Grace never had a dramatic fight, but they didn’t have the time, nor could they spare an alliance when they were fighting a common enemy that was not only cancer, but the temporality of human existence.

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In some strange way the romance of the two star-crossed(hehe see what I did there?!) lovers gives me hope that I can/will overcome my own pain,(which I have for the most part, but there are always sore wounds though.)  I can reasonably assume that I am not the only one with this feeling, considering the success that the novel has had.  We all deserve to have someone, who is all about us as Augustus and Hazel Grace were.  As Hazel Grace says to Augustus:

“You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”

That is something that I hope for not only myself, but everyone.(Yeah, I know that’s cheesy/corny/idealistic, but the sentiment is all the same.)  Still, I hope that we should all share a small infinity with another and never regret it.

Manufactured Romance. Tailored Love. Industrious Lust.

Valentine’s Day is such a seemingly superficial day, yet it strikes at the core of what the majority of people believe in, which is Love.  It is also a day that disturbs many people(namely single) out of being comfortable with their lives.  There’s this sudden inadequacy of being single/or not being in a relationship that invades almost everyone’s life in early February.  This is simply untrue.  V-Day is first and foremost a day about Love(I’ll leave out the commercialism).  And somehow this day is only and falsely left to those persons in love or in a relationship.  This is partially to blame our society as forcing this perception upon us.  We have allowed Hollywood and other pop culture icons to define Love and the happiness that flows out from it.

If anything this day should be one that celebrates Love in all its forms.(Which means the Love that can exist between family members and friends) It’s a disservice to Love that it has been kept within such a narrow labeling for so long.  And Love can be shown in so many different ways outside of flowers, chocolate, a candle-lit dinner.  It could be a conversation or a small gift or even just time spent with those that we Love.  And the real kicker(ready for it?!) is that this sort of thing doesn’t have to stop after today.  The thing with Love is that it can be perpetually actualized and never exhausted between persons that genuinely care for one another.  Our society has given us a disposable attitude toward people, feelings and objects in general, which has inevitably harmed us in the long run.  It’s tamed our we Love.  It has made lust a requirement for any real romance(which is an oxymoron).    In a sense our culture has deceived us with manufactured romance.  (Just watch The Bachelor).

It should be said though that we must have an appreciation for where we are in life single or not.  Some of the broken hearts may disagree with me, but I’ll admit I’ve been right with you more often than not.  And my own heart has been shattered more times than I’d like to say, yet looking at it all now I am better for it. I’m content with being single currently, because if you can’t be content at one time in your life how can you know you’ll be content when you’re with someone?  It is this idea of not being content with ourselves that ends up harming relationships and marriages.  We always place expectations on the other person, while not realizing they are our own foolish fantasies/mistaken idealism.  Sometimes this is subconscious, sometimes this is our own mistaken world view, which in the end needs to be recognized and corrected within ourselves.

I may just be joining the chorus here of those persons that want to shout indifference or contentment on Valentine’s Day, but I don’t want to join in the mob that would rather remain cynics toward Love.  Life is too short to remain bitter even for one day about Love lost or Love never found.  There is something so vital to the person that Love drives us absolutely mad and creates so divisions within ourselves when it turns sour.  There is always the chance it can sprout again, though we end up squashing it before it can root too deeply.  It is for this reason to keep going and living for the sake of Love.  In the end Love is larger than ourselves, because Love really makes the world go round.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you, my fellow hearts.

“When its gone, you’ll know what a gift love was. You’ll suffer like this. So go back and fight to keep it.”
―Ian McEwan, Enduring Love

Dating Sux….Well Not Really But People Suck At Dating

One of the most difficult things to figure out in relationships with other people(well more specifically that special someone), is what to do or how to go about it.  The ‘it’ I am referring to is taking that next step.  It’s that ‘dangerous’ step of moving into a more intimate realm that friendships never really go, unless this step is taken.  This step I’m referring to is the date.  I could go about and talk about the finer points of dating, of how the guy should ask or how women could be more open to it, but I am only going to restrict this post to what it means to ‘date’ and ‘dating someone’.  I don’t even want to talk about ‘talking’ or ‘pre-dating’, because those are irrelevant here.

Unless a guy asks someone out of the blue(which is rare in my experience) there’s always a gray area surrounding when two persons start making their interest known. Again it is my experience that a good friendship is unparalleled to founding a decent relationship, but then for ‘dating’ its not required exactly in my view, but it is an ideal. While, I’m remarking on the two people involved it is important that these two people that are looking to a possibility of a date, there should be a few things that each party should check first.

  1. Future: Make sure you are working toward your future at all times.  Whether you’re in school or working there is always something on the horizon for those persons that are not complacent and if you’re looking to open your life up to someone you shouldn’t be schlub.
  2. Baggage: No one likes skeletons in their closet, but everyone has them.  Make sure you have beaten your demons or are at the very least working on them.  Self-awareness and self-knowledge isn’t just recommended it is required before you take a large step in the romance direction.
  3. Open: You should be open to whatever happens.  Whether a possible romantic relationship ends at the first date or it ends a year later after going steady, you should be willing to see where the relationship could possibly go and aware when it starts to become derailed.
  4. Honesty: Pretty obvious, but I feel as if most people don’t realize this.  Being totally open and honest with another person is key and it shouldn’t wait until things get super serious or even after marriage.  All the cards should be on the table from day one.  This of course goes along the lines of prudence and as the relationship progresses.
  5. Conviction: When you start dating someone there may be a temptation to tailor your life to theirs, yet you have to keep your dreams your own.  These things come out as relationships progresses and both parties talk about what they want out of life and if it’s meant to work out each person helps/supports the other to reach their dreams.

This is just my own list, there may be more, but from what I have learned over the years.  You don’t even have to take my advice, because I know self-knowledge is a learned skill and most people refuse to see themselves in a figurative mirror.  These are just reminders essentially, since such things as future and convictions can change as relationships progress and become more serious.  It’s inevitable.  I mean, some of these things change just over a few months, because life doesn’t have a blue print.  Life is more like a novel that has plot twists, an uncountable cast of characters, and an end we can never really see until the last sentence.

There’s two takes of dating that I have seen which both are completely polarizing.  There’s the sense of the super casual date ‘just for fun’ or the ‘barely means anything outside of let’s fool around’ or the super serious version of a date where ‘going steady’ means ‘we are getting married next month (obviously exaggerations, but specifics just get lost in the shuffle).  There’s a middle ground between these two sides, that should be taken into account.  This middle ground keeps the ‘fun’ of casual dating and the decision (or we could call it discerning) aspect of serious dating.

Considering that to take the risk and to en-devour to see where pushing a friendship further into the romantic realm, takes two people.  And I do say it’s a risk for both parties. I mean, the guy leaves himself vulnerable for a rejection when he asks a girl out and the girl runs the risk of being rejected if the guy doesn’t actually find her attractive or worthy of pursing afterwards.  Yet, I have seen couples, who either don’t address their own baggage before getting coming together or they morph their dreams/futures together or they just plain old aren’t honest and up front with one another.  It’s a messy, confusing and painful cycle for everyone.

I won’t say anything further now, because I think there’s been enough of telling people what to do.  We all have our flaws.  We all have our problems. We all have our pasts.  We all allow these to become obstacles to other people and they hinder us from ever pursing genuine, honest relationships(romantic or not).  We are the only person that can change ourselves.  And for something such as dating, it will never be easy no matter the time period or people involved.  We can have courage and pursue the other no matter what the consequences though.  Fact remains that we should still go on dates.  Nothing good ever came from not risking something worthy of it.

Becoming All Things…Means To Love Foremost

I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 1 Cor 9:22

Don’t let this verse from the Bible scare you away if religion isn’t your thing.  I’m not going the preachy route with this.  What I do want to say is that this verse has always been a favorite of mine.  The most obvious contextual reading of this verse leads one to the self-evident understanding that we must evangelize to all no matter their background and how we must come down to their level in order to understand.  I want to take the verse in a different direction now.  What I would like to say, is that to me there’s an implicit notion within the context of this verse, which is a call to Love.

In order to truly ‘level’ or converse with anyone openly and honestly, (I’m presupposing a lot here, but it is my hope that our conversations are honest and good-intentioned), there’s an underlying Love on our hearts.  That may sound a little grand to some ears, but I think it isn’t really ‘grand’ in the proper sense.  Love doesn’t simply exist in overblown shows of affection or in the larger-than-life romances of our time.  Love is quiet, something that whispers to us and sometimes only brushes upon us in the softest way that we don’t even notice it.  It is in this way that Love comes into our hearts when we approach another to converse.  It both takes into itself and knows the other all at once.  This is how we ‘become all things to all men’.  I would even go as far to say that this verse cannot be divorced from the idea of Love.

Love changes its forms throughout our lives.  When we are children it comes in the shape of bear hugs from Dad or soft kisses from Mom.  Everything is a blissful mystery and beckons to our young minds to be stretched and to discover.  As we grow older, Love becomes symbolized in the other.  That girl.  That boy.  Love becomes personified and we start to display our Love in physical ways.  Yet, what happens as we do this Love starts to seemingly betray us.  It starts to sting as our Love isn’t met.  Our hearts take a beating.  They grow hard.  Our Love’s vitality starts to flag and soon we start to give up on it.  We don’t want to lower those walls any longer.  We blow people off.  We don’t open up to others, even if they open up to us.  Fear, bitterness and pain creates locks and chains on the place where our joy had once resided.

This is why Love doesn’t appear to us as often, even when it’s smacking us in the face.  Most of the time, we don’t want it, because Love has necessary demands.  Its demands are few, but for some of us it is still too much.  Love asks for all of ourselves.  Love asks for our hearts.  Love asks for a surrendering that we must bend a knee to.  It is only through this way that we can achieve any relation with another.  It also explains why it is so hard to honestly hold a conversation with another in today’s culture.  And by hold a conversation I’m speaking of the reality that we struggle to have conversations of substance(more than merely talking about news, weather or our jobs).  Substance to me means asking another ‘what are you working toward’ ‘what drives you’ ‘what are your dreams’.  Sure, maybe I wouldn’t phrase them as such, but they can take any form implicitly.

The next time you meet a stranger or even just talk to someone you may only have met a small time ago, Love them through a conversation.  Ask them what is moving in their life currently.  Ask what they care about currently.  Ask makes them get up in the morning.  This is what it would mean for us to ‘become all things to all men’, we must be able to at least speak with them first.  Conversation is the first bridge to cross into a person’s heart.  This is all said in the context of our lives that are saturated in Love from day one.

Marching For Life? Marching For Divisions

I’m going to take a break from my normal postings to speak on the March for Life, which as a Catholic, is sort of a huge deal.  (Don’t let my mention of Catholicism chase you away, hear me out).  Before I continue, I will say that I respect the March insofar as what it stands for (honoring the lives of those aborted) and the solidarity of those who stand for Life.  This said, I disagree with its’ intentions presently or at the very least the intentions of the participants.  Sure, some of my disagreement may be petty or seemingly nit-picky, but if Life doesn’t encompass the full spectrum of the human experience then your view is too narrow and woefully malnourished.  If you do not think its worthy to object to drone strikes, war(or rather conflicts, we don’t have wars anymore), or just the basic day to day life of the poor(in the U.S. I mean), then you don’t understand Life issues.  Painting in a broad stroke, all of the Church’s concerns are life issues, because it chooses to focus on saving those breathing persons.

It doesn’t stop there, I’ve met plenty of people who go to the March and the general feeling toward the government is one of opposition.  Now, I’ve gone to the march a couple times.  It’s cold, it’s sorta long and it’s a confused mess at times, though I think that’s any massive social/activist march as such.  The whole event is a struggle and for most people who go, they drive 3-5 hours of marching/holding signs and they get back in their cars and drive back to whence they came.  I admire them for it, since I too have done it as well.  Now, coming back to the feeling toward the government, I find this general animosity as counter intuitive.  Sure, the government ‘approved’ abortion via Roe v. Wade and it’s been 41 years since that day, yet it is through the government that the Pro-Life movement will have its (hopeful) final victory.  I’m not holding my breath for it as much as I would love for abortion to end myself.  That’s a separate topic altogether, I only wanna talk about the March.

The thing with the March, as much as it’s a symbol of solidarity, it is also one that has taken more of a feeling of battle lines of late.  Sure, the issue of pro-Choice, pro-Life, pro-Women and the rest of that nonsense has heated up over the past few years as the media has done a marvelous job with chopping up the United States even more over this issue.  Going along on this idea of the battle line, it sets up the Marchers as opponents to those that hold to the pro-Choice(or pro-Abortion) perspective.  This idea of ‘us v.s. them’ has been around in America for a while now, I cannot even begin to point out where it begins.  Maybe during WWI when this view was helpful in unifying the country, but now it is used inside the country and it does nothing but divide, hurt and cause us to fight amongst one another.

One reason I believe that the Pro-Life movement has made any progress towards overturning Roe v. Wade(sure there’s victories over wiping out a state’s abortion policy or pushing back abortion policy in general, but it’s still prevalent today.), is the fact that we are unwilling to have an honest to God discussion over the topic.  Sure we can debate the facts or realities of abortion.  We can throw pros and cons back and forth.  We can discuss who really has a say over a women’s body, yet at the end of the day what does that get us? It gets us effing nowhere.   I mean, that should be obvious considering we are creeping up on almost a century of abortion being legal in the United States….

Sure, I can’t give you anything to go on in order to open discussion with the other side.  That’s where the real work comes into play and what we should be devoting our energies too instead of trying to figure out guerrilla tactics.  What I do think though, is that our first step should be lowering our walls and allowing for some understanding to enter in.  We should be the side that receives their point of view and listen to them on their terms no matter how abrasive or ridiculous they are.  I mean, if I had a dime for every time  a student here at Franciscan complained that the news media had completely ignored the March for Life  I would have paid for my MA degree already.

Instead of gnashing our teeth, we should be accepting our persecution over this issue of Life with humility and grace.  I’m not saying we bend over for them, but we should not be reacting, at the very least, verbally violent over it.  If nothing else it should affirm our faith that the Father knows what He’s doing.  It should affirm that being small Christs to those in need is worthy of Love.  It should affirm that our lot in this earthly life is both wonderfully hard and incredibly insufferable.  It should affirm that we put others first in Love and leave ourselves last.  I’m still learning this as well still, but these are the things that I think about during these days around the March.

May everyone involved stay safe and Love first and foremost.

Dear Jesus, help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly all my life may only be a radiance of Thine. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus. Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others. -Bl. Mother Teresa