It’s John Green for you, from The Fault in Our Stars:
Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.
I recently rediscovered a math concept that between two numbers, lets say 2 and 3, there are infinite numbers between them (which becomes a headache when solving tricky standardized test problems!). But there are even more infinite numbers between 1 and 3. So maybe that’s what John Green meant, because literally how big are infinities?
We’re just like the numbers on the numbers scale. Some of us closer, some farther away. And yet no matter how close we are, there’s an infinite distant between us. Family. Friends. Colleagues.
We can never truly come to a full understand of someone else, no matter how close they may be. It can be frightening, but also liberating. We cannot control anybody else’s actions, we cannot think for anybody else – given the infinite distance between us.
Perhaps it’s easier to go on with adult life with this in mind that our understanding of people in our lives is limited. Sometimes there are no whys that can be answered. And this could make it easier to not take everything personally.
We can only act for ourselves and we might as well do it wisely.
Into week 8 of writing a column on growing up every Saturday (it’s cheat week as I wrote this on a Sunday).
I learned something fun and for an ethereal moment a marvelous thing that day: life, as we know, is a third-person limited perspective.
I was at a writing workshop this past week. We began by talking about building characters and moved into writing the narrative of the story. We were handed out a task to write a paragraph each in the First Person Limited narrative (the famous I character), Third Person Limited narrative (follow one single character’s Point of View) and the Third Person Omniscient narrative (follow two characters at most).
I walked out of the classroom and sat down in the not-too-dark canteen table to type my paragraphs. Inchoate questions and confusion began running like wild horses in my mind.
What is a narrative? How do I decide what my character sees? Where do I get my character?! Can my characters have a conversation with someone? Who?
I had heard these terms, but when I found myself surrounded by writers far more knowledgeable, I was nervous, unsure of what I knew. I felt out of place. The many literary terms coming my way made little sense to me.
I knew the First-person narrative, the famous I character -Dickens’ David Copperfield, the Third Person omniscient – God watching everything from above. But I got stumped at the Third Person Limited narrative.
If I follow a single character, can I have dialogues and conversations in the story? I thought.
I knew I had to ask this question. I had to muster the courage, despite all the feelings of not belonging that had surged.
The answer was yes. ‘We do not know what the other characters are thinking, but our character can react to the dialogues,’ the instructor said.
‘So can we say life, as we know, is a third-person limited perspective?’ I immediately asked as the question formed in a microsecond. I was not sure if it made any sense.
The answer was, filled with some slight giggles, a yes. ‘That’s the reason confusions and misunderstandings happen, no?’ he added.
For a moment it felt like I had traveled outside of my body, I had myself become a character in a story – a character that could never figure out what other characters were thinking, but could merely react as a result.
For some odd reason this realization soothed my being. It was a sudden manifestation that I was merely a character in this world of million stories, or a sense of relief in knowing that none of us carried the capacity or the burden to fully understand every minute thought that goes into the mind of the other.
It could have simply been the euphoria of being able to ask a question and get an answer.
Reflecting back on the week gone by since Saturdays are perfect for overthinking, and capturing some of it into words. Growing Up, a series, about the growing pains and confusions of growing up. (Too many growing, I get it!). Every Saturday.