Many years ago, there was this phase in my life where it seemed like everyone I knew was reading Nicholas Sparks’ “A Walk To Remember”. And, oh! how they all adored it. And, oh! how they all cried. I remember the dramatic sighing and hands clasped together over hearts that were employed to emphasize these points.* I wasn’t all that interested in reading tear jerker romances at that point in time, but eventually I decided to pick the book up and read it anyway. When it was over, I sort of scratched my head, and turned it over in my hands, and flipped through the pages, wondering which part was supposed to have made me reach for the Kleenex.
Fast forward to the present. The same motivations that led me to “A Walk To Remember” inspired me to look into John Green’s mega-bestseller “The Fault In Our Stars”. Will this genuinely move me, I wondered, or is it just another sub-par bestseller that will make me question the literary tastes of the masses? I finished the book this week, and I can’t say that it was either one. There are things to be said for “The Fault In Our Stars”. I did not dislike it. It was earnest and thought provoking. It was well-written, and yeah… some bits are pretty brutal. There are a lot of worse things people could be reading. That said, I didn’t come much closer to tears than I did with “A Walk To Remember” (some things get me, and some don’t. I guess that terminal illnesses in combination with ill-fated romance falls into the latter category).
Finishing “The Fault In Our Stars”, I felt sad and ponderous. In a different way, I think, than most of the people who laud it probably did. It wasn’t exactly depressing. But it didn’t seem vaguely hopeful to me, either. I felt like these characters spend the entirety of the book (and their lives) grasping for truth, and in the end, come up empty.**
There was this guy names Clyde Kilby, a writer and professor, and he compiled this list of resolutions. It didn’t take me five seconds to read the last words of “The Fault In Our Stars” before thinking of it. I don’t intend to demean the many, many people who love John Green’s book (or even Mr. Green himself). But I like these ideas a lot better. They are truth to me, and they are beauty. I post them here, for my readers to consider and (hopefully) to embrace.
10 Resolutions For Mental Health
1. At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.
2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death when he said: “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”
3. I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence, but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.
4. I shall not turn my life into a thin, straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.
5. I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.
6. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.
7. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the “child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder.”
8. I shall follow Darwin’s advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.
9. I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, “fulfill the moment as the moment.” I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is now.
10. Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.
Simplicity, wonder, faith. This is how life should be, regardless of our circumstances. A lot of people will disagree. But that is why #10 above is my favorite. I feel just as Puddleglum does, in C.S. Lewis’s “The Silver Chair”:
Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.
*If it sounds like I’m making fun here, I’m not. Or, if I am, I at least include myself with the rest. Get me going on certain George MacDonald novels, or Anne Of Green Gables and the like, and I’ll sigh with the best of them.
**I was continually reminded of this movie called “Third Star”. It made me sad and ponderous in the same way. But it is poignant, and features a top-notch Benedict Cumberbatch performance, and a hysterical appearance by Hugh Bonneville, so it’s not unworth watching.