“I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?”
-Hazel Grace, The Fault In Our Stars
In The Fault In Our Stars, the main character Hazel Grace is dying of cancer. When asked about why she won’t have a relationship with Augustus Waters, her response is the above quote.
There are some things that I want to tell Hazel.
Hazel Grace, we are all grenades. Every human being in this world is a series of small explosions. Some of us go out in one oversized burst that levels those around us, some of us putter through life throwing shrapnel and leaving those in our wake bleeding. But no matter who we are, one of the essential facts of being human is the fact that you will hurt people. You will most likely hurt everyone you have any kind of serious interaction with.
This is not a fact to feel guilty about. It simply is, and it happens because communication is imperfect and we all die and we all hurt and when someone cares about us all of these things are pain. Augustus Waters told you that we don’t get to choose whether or not we get hurt in this world, but we get to choose who does the hurting. There is a flip side to this statement and it goes like this: we don’t get to choose whether or not we hurt others in this world, but we have to trust them to know who they want to do the hurting.
The problem, Hazel, is not whether or not we are grenades. It is not whether or not we can minimize the damage (because let’s be honest, there is only so much minimizing that we can do). The question is how do we live with ourselves knowing that life is a long series of shitty incidents that hurt the people we love? The question is how do we imagine ourselves to be good people who deserve to be alive, who might have a positive impact on the world, how do we not burn out on even trying, when no matter how hard we try to be decent, our very existence means pain for someone?
The question, Hazel, is how do we keep going?
As you so eloquently put it, we could just ignore it, which is what most people do. We could close our eyes to oblivion and pointless pain. We could just keep muddling along in the best way we know how.
Or we can be acutely, exquisitely aware and hope that the awareness motivates us to better behavior, that our guilt over the past might keep someone, somewhere from getting hurt. We can play the martyr and try to take all the pain onto ourselves (guess what, that doesn’t work).
Or we can try to escape, never form relationships, convince ourselves that this means we are avoiding the problem of the hurting others. Except of course that rejection hurts and every time we close a door in someone’s face we hurt them.
Of course it seems like there must be another option, an option that doesn’t suck, an option that isn’t full of douche. Unfortunately, I have yet to discover that option. Perhaps it’s there, but I don’t believe that the universe exists to please us, so no matter how badly we want another option to exist, that is not evidence for its existence.
And so Hazel Grace, you are a grenade and there is no way to minimize casualties and in the explosive process of living you will find yourself injured by many other grenades along the way. I hope that you survive.
I hope that we all survive, at least for a little while. I hope the pins remain unpulled.