In the end of Looking for Alaska by John Green, he answers fan questions and in return, asks us questions.
Here is my attempt at answering his questions.
- Is forgiveness universal? I mean is forgiveness really available to all people, no matter the circumstances? Is it, for instance, possible for the dead to forgive the living, and for the living to forgive the dead?
Forgiveness is universal but it’s often underutilized. It goes hand in hand with “love and compassion.” Although we are capable of forgiveness, we have a long and seemingly doomed history of wars, hatred, greed and intolerance. Often time, it’s our cultures and religious background (or lack thereof) that make it hard to learn forgiveness. Our pride is our downfall. We care more about status than morals. I’m not really one to judge because I have difficulty forgiving. I, for example, can’t fathom how anyone can forgive a child molester. Even a “born-again Christian”. I do not have the capacity to forgive that. But I am not a God. I am just a person. A person with feelings of arrogance, anger, judgement and entitlement along with feelings of compassion, empathy, sadness, selflessness and courage. One of my biggest struggles is self-forgiveness. I have perfectionistic tendencies and it makes it near impossible to forgive my own mistakes. A good quote I heard was “Perfectionism is the highest level of spiritual abuse.” Forgiving is a spiritual act. It’s why a lot of religions try to teach it. Comprehending forgiveness is a personal trait, however. Some have it, some don’t. I am ever evolving so I do believe that one day, I can escape the labyrinth of suffering that is lack of forgiveness.
Whether it is possible for the dead to forgive the living depends on whether or not there is an afterlife. We’ve all seen movies where spirits linger for the sake of vengeance. We’ve seen movies where spirits linger for the sake on knowledge and forgiveness. And of course, if there is nothing after this, there is nothing that can forgive. I feel like the living can forgive the dead (after all, the grudge was on the living entity of whom now the dead represents). It’s easier to forgive after you’ve removed yourself from the situation and now that the variable is gone, you can slowly heal your heart until you’ve reached a state of forgiveness. However, those cases are hard to do in instances of suicide. It’s hard to understand suicidal intentions and most people react in anger.
But what is dead, really? Friendships can die while both party members continue to breathe and live. Jobs can die, dreams can die. Forgiving myself for my mistakes has proven far more difficult than forgiving a family member for lying or abuse. Is it really forgiving if I can forgive the whole world but not myself? What about people who say they forgive but never forget, is that really forgiving? If the trust is broken and irreparable, you just technically forgave the action but not the consequence. I can write a whole book on this so I’ll stop now.
- I would argue that both in fiction and in real life, teenage smoking is a symbolic action. What do you think it’s intended to symbolize, and what does it actually end up symbolizing? To phrase this question differently. Why would anyone ever pay money in exchange for the opportunity to acquire lung cancer and/or emphysema?
In most stories, smoking for a teenager represents an act of rebellion. They are underage and they are trying to act tougher than the system. For most characters of any age, it represents a sign of discontent or even a feeling of being lost. Characters who are not usually happy with their circumstances pass the moments by smoking (I.E Alaska). Just like most addictions, it is a tool to suppress emotions. Those who are feeling powerless and confused tend to turn to substances faster than those who are truly confident in their character. So although Pudge isn’t really confident about his looks or himself, he is confident about his morals and his personality. The common excuses smokers say is “it calms me down,” “it helps me socialize,” or they simply believe it’s only a momentary habit. The only why I can come up with is that they want to die without committing to dying (just like Alaska). That or peer pressure (just like Pudge). In the case of the Colonel, he is a mixture of angry and low self-esteem. On the surface, he seems like a pretty put together guy, one who just likes to cause pranks. It would be easy to say that he only does it to rebel. But when you look deeper into his character, he is not so sure of himself of his place. It’s kind of what makes him a considerate person.
- Do you like Alaska? Do you think it’s important to like people you read about?
I liked Alaska in some instances but not in others. I didn’t like her when she kept teasing Pudge. I did like her standards though, on feminism. I think it’s more important to connect to a character than like the people I read about. Even if I hate someone, but I hate them to the point where I am emotionally invested in the character, it can still make for a good story. If I like them, it’s even better. But when I feel indifferent about a character…when they’re a complete snooze to my consciousness, then the book becomes hard to continue reading. During the times when I was annoyed with Alaska, I was still emotionally invested in her. It’s like having that one friend who you tolerate even though you probably want to stay as far away from their drama as possible. That if you saw them at a party, you’d say hi and hug and still care about them even though you’ll instantly regret asking how they’ve been. Alaska hid behind her words. I think that is what was appealing about her. She was honest without being transparent. The attachment came with wanting to know more so you continue reading and reading in the hopes of finding her without any walls. She had depth.
- By the end of this novel, Pudge has a lot to say about immortality and what the point of being alive is (if there is a point). To what extent do your thoughts on mortality shape your understanding of life’s meaning?
I honestly don’t believe there is a meaning to life, therefore mortality won’t shape my understanding of it. I believe life exists because it needs to. And we are who we are not because the world needs us, but because that is how we were created. Finding purpose is a novel idea. One of my favorite quotes (I forgot who said it) states that a dog does not need to define itself to be a dog, a horse does not need to define himself to be a horse, but a person needs to define himself to be a man. We grow up with this idea that we are better than other species and therefore, we feel like our lives should have purpose. I believe it’s backwards. By redefining ourselves, we lost our purpose. I don’t think we were created just to have jobs or explore the world. I don’t know why we were created but it seems that we have become rather selfish. Other animals exist for the good of the ecosystem. We destroy the ecosystem. The heart can stop whenever it wants to. We can’t really control that. We can take preventative measures but our beliefs won’t change that. Our beliefs shape how we live our lives. It has little to do with life’s meaning and a lot to do on how we define it. But even defining it isn’t enough. I know many people who talk the talk but never walk the walk and ultimately, I think we use religion as a security blanket. I am not looking down on anyone, I love security blankets myself.
The only correlation I can think of is: urgency. I like the scene in Fight Club where Tyler points a gun to a random stranger and tells him that if he doesn’t go after his dream, he’ll kill him. I know that sound drastic, but if he never made it until a life and death situation, the random stranger wouldn’t think he had to go after it. “I have all the time in the world.” But living life like it’s life and death is exhausting. It’s why doctors are so drained of energy. It’s why soldiers have trauma.
My belief in life is to live it with integrity. Not to please some God. Not to please your parents. But just having morals is a way to tell life “I respect you and the gift you have given me.” Ultimately, living a life of gratitude has been a recurring theme amongst belief systems.
- How would you answer the old man’s final questions for his students? What would your version of Pudge’s essay look like?
For those who haven’t read the book, the old man asks “How will you — you personally– ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?”
My first mission would be to identify what suffering means in my life. Suffering very objective and therefore, different for others. An alcoholic’s version of suffering is not being able to escape the bottle, whereas the alcoholic’s partner’s version of suffering is to watch his/her partner suffer. Or even in terms of the book, Alaska’s version of suffering is never getting anything right, Pudge’s version was not being able to get together with Alaska, and The Colonel’s was not being good enough. See, different perspectives based on different values, morals, priorities and circumstances. Very similar to each other, but their own personal versions.
What is causing suffering in my life? Something that I want to escape? Well, in short, overthinking.
After identifying the suffering, I would provide evidence as to why this constitutes suffering. My overthinking has led to loss of relationships, productivity, and opportunities.
Then go into more details on the trigger moments. I.e: I was fine working where I used to work until I realized that I no longer felt satisfied because no matter how hard I work, I wasn’t making more money. Then I felt guilty for making it about the money and not about the work. Then I felt incompetent for not being able to support myself. Then I thought about all the other ways I’m incompetent until I have an self-doubting, self-loathing anxiety attack and need to escape to calm myself in the women’s bathroom. All this thinking when I could have just said “This job isn’t fulfilling to my talents or my wallet, I want to find something else.”
Then I will list all the possible ways to escape overthinking and describe why that might work. Such as: If I meditate every day, my body will learn to breathe better naturally and calm my brain down with each breath. If I can find a power greater than myself to believe in, I might learn that it’s okay to let go of all my fears. If I can learn to let things go in general (forgive), I won’t feel the burden of my past. If I can learn to voice my concerns instead of holding them in, I can slowly see how quickly my thoughts jump from one isolating event to another, trying to merge past and present in incongruent ways that only seem to make perfect sense to me. If I can learn that my thoughts are not a direct representation of me, but rather a side-affect of living, I can separate myself and come back to my reality.
That’s more or less how my essay will go (with more detail and proper grammar, of course). Oh, and do a small summary for a conclusion because teachers usually take off points if you don’t (at least my teachers did. I didn’t just bare my soul for them to not get an A+).
I think I took the last one a little too literal. It would be interesting to see how my answers for Question 4 and 5 would change down the line as I continue reading more books. Perhaps I’ll make it a thing to answer them every two years.