In Augustus Waters’ house, a drawing of an angel with the caption – without pain how would we know joy hangs over the television. August has cancer. His soon to be girlfriend Hazel Grace has cancer, and their mutual friend Isaac also has cancer. They met in a support group. They’re all teenagers. Augustus’ parents have filled the house with encouragements or inspirational memes. For those not familiar with the book, The Fault in Our Stars, read it. It is poignant, but good.
They’re teenagers trying to survive to adulthood. They have all the normal problems of teenagers plus the added bonus of cancer. John Green does a great job of portraying teenage angst combined with the reality of death.
Enough about the book, let’s look at the encouragement – without pain how could we know joy. Hazel Grace doesn’t buy into it. Her rejoinder … “the existence of broccoli does not, in any way, affect the taste of chocolate,” is a perfectly good response. Cancer patients definitely know pain, and finding joy under the circumstances could be difficult. However, Grace and Augustus do find moments of joy.
Besides Grace’s response, two other responses come to mind. The first argument in favor of the saying dictates sometimes we have to leave something behind in order to find something new and wonderful. We may need to get fired from an okay job in order to move on to a better job. The old job becomes comfortable, and we don’t want to leave it to find a new job. Most people fear the unknown. They fear change. Sometimes they have to be forced to find something new, and this is painful.
In some cases it is a bad relationship that they fear leaving behind. It doesn’t matter how many times her partner cheats on the relationship or hits her. She desires to stay in the bad circumstances rather than seek a better connection with a nicer person.
The remaining response to the encouragement is more of a philosophical argument. How can you debate whether a situation is bad or good if you have limited experiences? How can you determine joy, if you’ve never felt pain?
Everyone knows pain. Like Grace, some know pain more than others. Pain can be physical or emotional. In some cases, emotional pain can actually trigger physical pain. We get so emotionally upset that our bodies rebel against us.
But does everyone know joy? Joy means happiness, delight, pleasure and bliss. Again our emotions can generate physical feelings. During moments of happiness our body releases endorphins. They relieve stress and make us feel good. By the way chocolate also causes the body to release endorphins so maybe Grace was on to something.
Without pain how could we know joy? Is it necessary to have pain in order to understand joy? Maybe, but I really like Grace’s answer the best.