Grenades

“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.

 

An Open Letter to a Struggling Friend

Hey you.

It looks like things aren’t going so well right now. In fact it looks like things suck balls right now. It looks like you’re terrified and hurting, and you don’t know how to let people help without giving up who you are and all your coping mechanisms.

Trust me, I understand. I understand what it’s like to know, deep down in your gut, that what you’re doing is right and that everyone else should piss right off because they don’t get it. I understand what it’s like to know that you can’t get through a day without doing those things that everyone else says are “bad” and “dangerous” and “self-destructive”, but you know that you wouldn’t even be alive right now if you couldn’t use them to cope.

I also know what it feels like to not want to be alive anymore. I don’t have any trite words of wisdom about how it gets better. Some days I’m still not convinced that I make the right decision by choosing life over and over again. Life is exhausting and thankless, and seems to be a hamster wheel of attempts at happiness. I don’t know what we get out of it, and I don’t know whether it’s worth it. What I do know is that I care about not hurting people, about being a compassionate, decent human being. I know you do too. And I know for a fact that hurting yourself will hurt many, many other people. Not a small, insignificant hurt either. The kind of hurt that lasts and lingers and comes out of nowhere when you least expect it.

You know that kind of hurt.

I know it comes across as unfair and guilting when other people ask you to be healthy for their sake. They don’t know how hard it is. You’re not doing anything to them. You have the right to your own life, and they need to get over it. You’re doing what you need to do to get by, so screw everyone else who wants to change that. Why is it your responsibility to take care of everyone else’s god damned emotions?

It isn’t fair. In no way is it fair. However it is also the reality of the situation that your actions affect others, and if you want to be consistent with your values you have to start taking care of yourself. You also have to start listening. I know that you are a strong, brazen individual who doesn’t give a fuck…except that you do. You give so many fucks and that’s why it hurts so bad when others are hurting. That’s why you have to poke and poke at the people who want to hurt you, that’s why you want to prove you’re stronger than it all, that’s why you want to look stone-faced. It couldn’t possibly get any worse, could it? Maybe it will get bad enough this time that you won’t have to keep going, you’ll be able to give up.

That doesn’t work. I have tried nearly every trick in the book to turn off the feelings. They keep coming back. Always.

And you and I have something in common that means you will never give up. We have a special kind of stubborn streak. You may be the only other person I’ve met who has one quite like mine. It’s the kind of stubborn streak that means we never leave things half-assed, including our own lives. Oftentimes it leads to problems. But this is one of those times where the stubborn can be used to your benefit. You will hold on to your bad patterns with the strength of Superman, but you will also hold on to life because change is terrifying and you’re used to being alive. Relish that stubbornness. Relish the fact that you’ll survive just to prove that you fucking can and you’ll be fine without any help thanks very much.

Except of course that you won’t be fine without any help.

There are people who are telling you that they love you and that they want to help. That’s not what you want to hear. You want to hear that they’ll leave you alone because you don’t even know what help looks like and you don’t know how things could possibly get any better (because they always seem to find a way to get worse). Somehow it doesn’t hit that these people really might have a perspective that you can learn from. How on earth would they know better than you about your life? They think they care about you and they think they love you, but if they knew who you really were they wouldn’t? They’re lying, it’s a trap, it’s a trick, they’re condescending fucks.

Or that’s what you tell yourself.

In reality, you cannot understand how terrified and in love your friends are. You will never understand what you mean to them. You will never understand how badly it hurts them when you lash out, when you tell them that you know they hate you. You think that you have to be the one to manage them all, to keep them in line. You have to come up with the magic bullet that will fix all your problems and they’ll stand there and smile nicely and maybe lend a hand, but they don’t know what’s going on and so they can’t help.

Except that each of your friends has an entire lifetime of coping behind them. The feeling of finally being able to fall into their arms and give it all up is amazing. They might not know exactly what to do, but a little bit of trust goes a long way: they probably know how to help a lot better than you think they do. They are willing to put up with so much more than you think they are.

Imagine, briefly, that one of us was far away and hurting. Imagine that we were cutting off contact, instigating fights, hurting ourself. Imagine what you would do to get to us, to save us, to make god damn certain that we were ok. Imagine how badly you would want to fold us in your arms and get us to a doctor and shut out the rest of the stupid world until we were safe.

And I get that it feels like we want to control you, and I get that it feels like you’re a damned adult and you can handle yourself, and I get that this all feels like a stupid overreaction and you don’t want it. But you know what being an adult means? It means taking responsibility for your relationships. It means being willing to do shit that is hard and terrifying and unpleasant. It means being willing to talk to your friends and listen when they say they’re worried and do silly, potentially useless things to help calm their fears.

Because really, how would it hurt to let them in? Besides the overwhelming fear of rejection (which you’ve already forced by pushing them away), what would happen? You’d have to stop doing all the things that rip your body apart and leave you broken but in control (or so you tell yourself). You’d have to stop holding so damn tightly to all the little things in your life that are making you feel human.

So yeah, it does hurt to let them in. And maybe some of them won’t be able to handle it. And that is a horrible, miserable feeling. But I can promise you that if you don’t let your friends in, none of them will be able to handle it and you’ll be really, truly alone. I can promise that you KNOW it hurts right now. It may very well get worse if you ask for help and you do the damned hard work of learning new ways to cope. In fact it probably will. For a while. It is a thankless task. But when you hear your friends and family saying things like “I never could have said this to you a year ago”, or you notice how much more relaxed they are around you, or how you haven’t felt like you have to hide or lie in weeks…somehow it’s a little bit worth it.

I’m not going to tell you it will all get better. There are no rainbows and unicorns. But you can get better. You can do better. And I expect better of you. I know that you’re hurting, but that doesn’t give you license to treat your friends the way you have. So please, stand up and be the version of yourself that is vulnerable, open, and compassionate, to yourself and to others.

I love you more than you can imagine.

Olivia