Better and Again
As an avid bookworm, I’ve amassed a fairly large (and ever-growing) list of favorite books. One of the newest additions to this list is The Fault in Our Stars by one of my favorite authors, John Green. John is one of the most able observers of the human condition writing today, and his piercing and poignant tales of growing up and facing life in all of its complexity all occupy slots near the top of my collection of best-loved books, but The Fault in Our Stars is by far his greatest literary achievement. As highly as I do recommend the book, however, I’m not writing today to give a detailed review. Instead, I want to bring to your attention a short, striking quote that stuck out to me the instant I read it and has burned in the back of my mind ever since:
“It occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again.” – John Green, The Fault in Our Stars, p. 305
The main character, Hazel Grace Lancaster, makes this observation late in the story, as she looks back on the time that she spent and the adventures that she had with one of her closest friends and realizes that her time with him could be drawing to a close. The sheer number of emotional layers in her simple statement always stuns me, not because it’s so deep, but because it’s so true.
We’ve all felt the bittersweet blend of hope, regret, nostalgia, doubt, and hunger that comes with reimagining the past. We see things as they might have been, travel in our minds the paths that we might have taken even after the chance has come and gone, and we wonder if the choice we made was the best one after all.
The trouble with those thoughts, though, is that they don’t just haunt our failures and missteps – they plague our joyous moments as well, preying on our dreams the instant that we achieve them. Yes, our dreams came true, we experienced a once-in-a-lifetime moment and it was incredible, but could it have been better? Did we really seize the chance for all it was worth before it slipped away or did we miss out on an even greater joy than what we found?
For most of us, we know that those thoughts serve no useful purpose, that we can’t change the past and that dwelling on what may have been is the surest way to cripple what might still be, but deep down inside that feeling is still there, the insatiable desire for a second chance, for our better-and-again.
I believe that living consists of moving forward, but I am also sure that the backwards tug of every voracious human heart exists for a purpose: it reminds us that we were built for perfection and that we haven’t yet attained it. The brevity of time and the immutability of the past unsettles us because we are the natives of eternity, displaced by our own rebellion and hungry for home. As long as we look for fulfillment here, we will never be fully satisfied.
We have to realize that only the God who designed our souls can restore them, only the Creator of eternity can rescue us from the tyranny of time and the judgment at its end. One day, He will give His children not only what is better, but what is perfect, not only again, but always, but for now we must seize the little time we have and show our fellow exiles the way to escape, the way to be filled – the way to go home.