A funny thing happened to me on the way to the movies the other night, my girls wanted to see The Fault In Our Stars. John Green is the author of the book by the same name, and he’s a very young, liberal, hysterically funny author and blogger. My daughters have latched on to him as the Most Current Hip Thing, and I get it. He’s also a spot on storyteller with the sucky reality of cancer, and I wonder about the point of it.
Anyone with a pulse realizes that TFIOS is blazing box office numbers right now, and I just can’t figure it out. It’s grossed over 50 million bucks on a twelve million dollar tab to make, which is a pretty impressive return on studio investment.
The thing is, people, why pay to see what is all around you? I told my girls they could see it. I knew I would probably have objections to it, so I read the book before making any censorship decisions. (Note for those with ears to hear, always know what you are talking about before you insist your kids don’t see/buy/listen to something. )
So I read TFIOS, and bawled like a little girl. (Zero spoiler alert here, by the way. It’s a cancer movie, so of course important characters are going to croak, OK?) John Green wrote the book as an attempt to help people understand that cancer patients are not somehow “other” than the rest of us mortals, and that even young ones can have rich, full lives. To that, I tip my hat. The legions of friends that surrounded us when Chris was dying never gave me that ‘vibe’, he was treated with as much humanity as he ever was.
But how is it we are not awake to this? Why do we need to pay to be jarred into tears? As the movie progressed, I found myself watching my fellow movie-goers. Predictably, tissues came out during the more heartwrenching scenes. Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort are completely adorable as the star crossed lovers, and when one of them dies, it brought the ladies next to me to full-blown sobs. Huh?
On July 18th, it will have been four years since I lost my own Chris to cancer. For about the first two of those years, just about everything brought me to tears. I was a raw, walking radar for other people’s pain. I didn’t have to look to closely, sometimes I didn’t have to look at all, to find something worthy of tears. Divorce? Illness? Cruelty? Aging, ignored elders? Neglected children? Hunger in America, of all places? Wounding thoughtlessness to loved ones? New friends have even opened my eyes to how we mistreat other life forms- I never knew that elephants had family structures a lot like ours, for example, and grieve for years when their babies are shot for sport.
It seems to me that we are experiencing what I find to be kind of a disturbing trend. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I might call it ‘social media isolation’. It’s hard to hold someone’s hand when it’s wrapped around a screen, or typing on a keyboard. Texting interrupts everything, and the need to record everything for Facebook is everywhere. It’s ironic to me when we pay to see mind-boggling natural events on a big screen, and don’t strap on our hiking boots and go for a walk. And there is something deeply dismaying to me to see men and women weeping at a truly touching story, and leave those tears in a wadded up tissue at the theater door.
So what to do with all that energy? I find that simply showing up does a lot for me. Get to a church, friends. Go to a woman’s shelter. Go to an animal sanctuary. Walk into a hospice and offer to mop the floor or make coffee. Go to an inner city AA meeting. Show up and let your heart be broken by reality. It’s much more satisfying than a movie.