Friday, January 13, 2012

Words on a Page

This has been an exciting, if bittersweet, week. Author John Green's newest novel, "The Fault in Our Stars" arrived in bookstores and it is an amazing book! It is also dedicated to our Esther! Last Tuesday night, he and his brother Hank kicked off the book tour here in Boston. However, I couldn't wait until that evening to see the book so I went to a local bookstore earlier in the day just to check it out. I picked it off the shelf and turned to the dedication page. There it was in blocks: TO ESTHER EARL. I surprised myself by rubbing my fingers across her name and then the quiet sobs began. I put the book down and caught my breath. Returning to the page caused me to cry again so I quickly set my wet face into the book to hide. Then I thought, "Great, you've just slimed this beautiful book with your salty tears and oily skin. Now you're gonna have to buy it!"

I knew about the dedication beforehand but didn't realize he'd put the rest of our family on the Acknowledgement page! When I saw John later that night I told him that wasn't necessary to which he replied, "On the contrary, very much so." I reminded him that, in the beginning, Lori and I found it a little strange how much Esther adored him. She had decided that she wanted him to be a big part of her Make-A-Wish event and so we had contacted him. He accepted on the spot and even payed all expenses for two additional friends of Esther to attend! At the same time, I had been watching the most recent Dr Who episodes on TV with Esther. I wanted to know why the doctor appealed to her. He was, after all, literally an alien, an other-worldly, god-like figure who chose feisty and interesting human beings to accompany him on his ongoing mission to save the universe. As the last of his kind, he especially enjoyed the companionship of humans and I found him to be endearing, and terribly fascinating, though an ultimately unknowable and unattainable person. But his vulnerability struck me, too, as he was incomplete in himself and needed others to assist him.  And then one day it struck me, John Green was Esther's Dr Who! He had taken her away and she, and he, were the better for the adventure. At that our first meeting, I told John this.

As I held the book, I thought about the power of words and other images that we construct in order to portray our vision (Are words and images different, ultimately, anyway?). How do some words upon words (stories) combine to inspire and move their readers? The words I touched in this book seem to have come alive like so many genies freed from their lamps. They humor, and challenge, and wound me. Will I be better for having known them, for having kept them close and will they stay with me, finally, even as I shut them away? Two decades ago, existential psychologist Rollo May said, "There can be no stronger proof of the impoverishment of our contemporary culture than the popular – though profoundly mistaken definition of myth as falsehood" (The Cry for Myth, 1991). It's still true today. Words in a story can possess a mythical quality. A story is based in part on the author's experience and imagination and the story's words change in some ways as the reader handles them. I am speaking of novels, yes, but it's also true of non-fiction, for biography and history are a writer's attempt to recreate a past which even a photograph does not render with complete accuracy! Anyway, this is all old stuff, I know, but standing in that bookstore reminded me that what's mixed in (made up, added, false, myth-like) can often be the source of the deepest things.

So, take up John's book and read! We have now purchased six books and I'm sure many more will follow. My family is in the book for goodness' sake! At John's urging on Tuesday night, the Boston Nerdfighting community gave us an awesome and thunderous applause. Esther would have been embarrassed but would have loved it, too! She had always been a role model and was learning to carry her impact to a larger audience with the poise that had marked her, the grace that had been her middle name. Referring to Esther, John said, "Imagine that. An empathetic teenager." Just so many words on page, you say? Well, call me crazy, but I am convinced that we now have among us two additional flesh and blood, real-life heroes, a certain Hazel Grace and one Augustus Waters.

Which brings me to the last of my many words, which I now gratefully dedicate to John Green, my friend, and someone who is definitely from the stars above, a gift to us all.

TFiOS ~by John Green