I will never forget the part in TFIOS where Hazel Grace gets annoyed at Augustus for wanting to leave a legacy:
“You know,” he said after a while, “it’s kids’ stuff, but I always thought my obituary would be in all the newspapers, that I’d have a story worth telling. I always had this secret suspicion that I was special.”
“You are,” I said.
“You know what I mean, though,” he said.
I did know what he meant. I just didn’t agree. “I don’t care if the New York Times writes an obituary for me. I just want you to write one,” I told him. “You say you’re not special because the world doesn’t know about you, but that’s an insult to me. I know about you.”
“I don’t think I’m gonna make it to write your obituary,” he said, instead of apologizing.
I was so frustrated with him. “I just want to be enough for you, but I never can be. This can never be enough for you. But this is all you get. You get me, and your family, and this world. This is your life. I’m sorry if it sucks. But you’re not going to be the first man on Mars, and you’re not going to be an NBA star, and you’re not going to hunt Nazis. I mean, look at yourself, Gus.” He didn’t respond. “I don’t mean—” I started.
“Oh, you meant it,” he interrupted. I started to apologize and he said, “No, I’m sorry. You’re right. Let’s just play.”
So we just played.
At that moment of the book I didn’t get Hazel, why was she so against Gus’s desire to leave a legacy? Why was she so offended that Augustus thought of the world beyond his friends, his town, beyond her. I really didn’t like Hazel at this part of the book, why couldn’t she just let Augustus feel special, why was she being such a dream-crusher?
Come to think of it, I know a lot of people who aren’t that bothered about legacies- the reasoning behind it being well you’re dead, therefore, if and only if, you made any impact you wouldn’t even know.
The first time I noticed that some people thought this way, I was baffled. I thought everyone, everywhere wanted to leave a legacy, wanted to have a ‘story worth telling’, I know I did and still do.
As a child, I thought leaving a legacy was leading a movement or walking on the moon, those were the only things that sufficed when talking about legacies. The aim was always to do something absolutely, incredibly out of this world.
As I have grown up, however, and seen the world (in my very long and battle filled 17 years of life) my perception of legacies is so different.
I described to someone, whilst I was in one of my Angela Chase moods, that life is like a huge picture and when you leave, you make a mark on it. For some people that mark is a finger print, for others it’s a whole hand print, some people leave a dribble others leave a gash but EVERYONE marks the picture. What’s the catch? NO ONE knows what the picture is or what it will look like at the end but everyone blindly participates in the creation of this magical mess.
It was when I thought about legacies in this way that I finally understood Hazel Grace. Augustus could leave a legacy by simply loving those around him, by making Hazel not feel lonely, by loving her with every part of him. Sure, it wasn’t changing the world, but it was changing someone’s world and that was enough.
Legacies could be as simple as being the person who always smiled, opened doors and was just a ray of sunshine or go as far as leading a movement and fighting for something you believe in.
I think what bothers me about the aversion towards leaving a legacy, is that it makes me think that people think more about living for themselves. People get wrapped up in the idea that because they won’t be able to see whatever impact they made, they won’t bother to make an impact at all. That bugs me a lot.
My feeling towards living for yourself and yourself alone is summed up perfectly in these lyrics from Black Star’s ‘Thieves in the night’:
‘Get yours first, them other n***** secondary
That type of illing that be filling up the cemetery’
It’s that idea that your needs, desires and dreams are far more important than those around you. That people can suffer, wallow in sadness or poverty but as long as you ‘get yours first’ then no one else really matters.
Remembering that you are important, that you have needs and dreams to chase is vital, yes. You shouldn’t lose yourself in the process of trying to solve other people’s problems. You also shouldn’t lose the connection with your surroundings because you are so lost in yourself.
Legacies aren’t about living for people; they’re about living to be a difference, big or small. ‘But I don’t feel I can change anything’ is what I hear people say, but you can! If we get out of the mindset that being a change is doing something massive, we will all realise the impact that our little acts have.
Think of hashtags, for example. A hashtag does not seem like a big deal AT ALL, a few words surely can’t make a big change, but in fact they really can.
In my school project on ‘Is Journalism a dying art?’, I spoke about how social media is changing the course of journalism, how citizenship journalism is becoming more prevalent because of the way in which people can connect with the story and act on the news and I wrote the following:
Our consciousness are being raised, our engagement with the world around us is becoming stronger because the digital world is connecting us with the story.
How many people used the #jesuischarlie or #ferguson to show their engagement with the Charlie Hebdo and Ferguson shootings? #jesuischarlie was tweeted around seven million times making it one of the most repeated news related hashtags of all time and #Ferguson had 3.5 million mentions the night of the grand jury decisions. These are just two of several examples of how people are engaging with news on social media, and this is the reason why journalists more than ever, must be in tune with their audience.
and what did these simple hashtags do, they sparked marches and movements and shed light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug.
We all matter. We all have the opportunity to make a change.
We have all become so desensitised to Ghandi’s advice to ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’ but I strongly believe that, that quote is a call to my generation. We have SO MANY platforms, to spread messages of love, to start movements, businesses, charities- to share our words and talents for the greater good. We have so many platforms to be that change and make our own meaningful contribution to magical mess that is life.
So get off your backside and start making a change (and let me know whatever you’ve got up to, so I can send you a huge virtual hug).
Remember that, even if we don’t see it in our time, one day someone will be thankful that we took a stand and made a difference.
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