Momservation: If you run from the things that scare you, you’ll find that fear always wins the race.
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I went with my thirteen year-old daughter to see The Fault in Our Stars movie. We both loved the book with John Green becoming our new favorite author. She wanted to go with friends—and honestly, I wanted her to go with friends to see this guaranteed tear-jerker, but her friends had already seen it while we were on vacation. So we went as mother and daughter united in our love for a great story and testing the theory that the book is always better than the movie.
Did I call this movie a tear-jerker? What I meant was tear gusher.
At least, for a parent.
My daughter was proud of herself for choking back her tears while I soaked two butter stained napkins.
I could’ve soaked more. I could’ve flat out bawled. When my daughter continued to glance over at me concerned for my well-being I choked back my sobs and reassured her, “I’m okay. It’s just a side effect of being a mother.”
It’s also the side-effect of having experienced “a ten” as John Green so eloquently described suffering in his book that was also well illustrated in the movie.
The teenagers who will flock to see this movie, and who the book was directed at, will cry over the tragic first love moments in TFiOS. They’ll sniff back tears for this modern day Romeo and Juliet and what could’ve been. They won’t be able to take their eyes off the magnetic actors (Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace and Ansel Elgort as Augustus) who make them crave a love ultimately doomed.
But as a mother, I cried tears for what was. The shots of Laura Dern’s panicked face, (she plays the mother of 17 year-old terminal cancer patient Hazel Grace, expertly played by Woodley), rushing to her daughter’s slightest calls of distress, only to melt into relief that this moment isn’t her daughter’s last moment on earth was agonizing. I could not take my eyes off the parents who would’ve given anything to have surly, non-communicative teenagers instead of ones who were lucky to be alive for the moment. It was 125 minutes of a parent’s worst nightmare.
But it was beautiful.
Like the book, TFiOS movie is a story told so powerfully we are educated and enlightened as if we experienced the tragedy of being youthfully terminal without having to actually suffer through it. When you put down the book or walk out of the theatre you will take a deep breath with new appreciation for your healthy lungs, functioning limbs, and life’s blessings with the relief that this was only a simulation.
There is a part in the book, and thankfully kept in the movie that has been predictably stripped down, of Hazel Grace describing the severity of her pain. Just before her first miracle survival a nurse asked her to rate her pain from one to ten, ten being the worst. Hazel Grace held up nine fingers as she drowned in her fluid-filled lungs. The nurse later told her she knew Hazel Grace was going to make it because she gave “a ten” a nine.
“I was saving my ten for later,” Hazel explains when the ten finally shows up—the loss of love more excruciating than the throes of death.
And that’s what made me cry the most and long after the movie that I sat through with my precious child.
On the car ride home as we laughed about what a blubbering, puffy-eyed, mascara-streaked mess I was, I choked up again as I tried to explain why I was so much more affected than she was.
“I’ve experienced ‘a ten’,” I was able to say evenly. She got quiet with understanding for the trauma my family endured when my parents lost a child and I lost a six year-old sister in a tragic accident.
But I could not stop my voice from breaking, a sob catching in my throat, and my heart constricting with the panic of Laura Dern’s face when I said, “If the world was a wish granting factory, I would wish that my children never experience ‘a ten’.”
I would wish all my children’s character building moments, the one’s we have to suffer through in order to truly appreciate God’s gifts to us and gain the clarity of perspective, could be simulated.
But as John Green wisely tells us: “Pain demands to be felt.”
The Fault in Our Stars is beautiful agony for a parent. It is simply a simulation that will make you hug your kids tighter and remind you to thank God every night for their good health, happiness, and safety.
I’ll take a simulation any day over an actual “ten” to give me the clarity for what really matters in this life.