The Bravest Thing that Humans Do

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The Fault In Our Stars trailer came out today, and like so many readers of John Green’s beloved book, I cried, again. The story itself has all of the quiet, beautiful makings for ending up in a throw blanket, while tearing into a package of Oreos and having a good sob.

There’s probably numerous reasons why The Fault In Our Stars evoked so much emotion in its readers. I thought I’d share mine. It all rotates around the word that I personally find the ugliest. Cancer. I grew up next door to my great grandmother. She was the healthiest, busiest person I knew. A former nurse, she spent her days taking all of the old, neighborhood widows for their hair appointments, to get their groceries, getting them to church services, and sitting in their living rooms while they talked away their loneliness.

If my name was in teeny tiny print in the newspaper for making the honor role, you bet she found it, cut it out, and brought it to my house for my scrapbook. Every year on my birthday, she’d gather purple lilacs from her yard and bring them to me in a Mason jar. One of my earliest memories is her reading to me, and she instilled such a love of stories in me. If I wanted her to read a book a second time, to her credit, she never told me no. She’d always read it again.

But cancer doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, average or pretty, old or young, and not even always if you’ve tried to be healthy or not. This disease has affected many people in my family. Some of them have beat it. Some of them have been gifted what I’d only call a miracle. Some of them fought it with grace and dignity, and some of them still passed away from it.

I guess this is just me remarking on how this disease changes people. Like Hazel and Augustus, when you’re actually faced with the immensity of a life-threatening illness, a lot of things that you thought were such a big deal become so small. And so many little things start to mean a lot more.

For me, it absolutely put simple, tiny things in perspective. Like, I learned that my grandma making fresh, hot wheat rolls, or strawberry jam to fill it, or her chocolate cake with homemade icing, was about the rest of us. While we were sitting comfortably in her living room, or spinning on the stool in the kitchen watching her stir a pot of something, she was working very hard at making a meal the rest of us would love. I think about all of the hours she spent at her kitchen stove, just so that her kids and grandkids could spend an hour around the table laughing and eating together.

When my grandma was so overcome with the pain of her cancer and had to wear the morphine patch, I watched her still manage a smile for my one year old. She would still let this little child climb into her lap for a story, much like myself at that age. Despite how tired she was, despite the aches, the nausea, the chills. And so I learned from cancer, that a person can truly have selflessness and kindness for others no matter how wretched they might feel–no matter how death might loom over them.

My grandma wasn’t perfect. Sure I like to think she’s as close as anyone will ever be. But she still had days where I could tell it was all she could do to get to the end of that day. She had days where she had to excuse herself for an extra nap. But really, cancer proves again and again, that one of the most heroic things an average person can do, is be sick. Just being sick, in and of itself, takes bravery. It often means yielding one’s pride and control. Illness requires patience, humility, and endurance. And it takes an unbelievable amount of faith and grace.

It also takes some real guts and some real courage to watch someone you love be sick. And it takes that same faith and grace to let them go.

My favorite line in The Fault In Our Stars is “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world…but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices.” Just like Augustus Waters, I have been so lucky.


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