In finishing "Looking for Alaska" by John Green, I came across another epiphanous quote: "We are more than the sum of our parts." It reminded me of the lyrics in one of my favorite songs: "You are more than the sum of your past mistakes. You are more than the problems you create. You are more than the choices that you make." We are complex creatures. We have physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects that define us, influence our decisions, and create the indelible mark we each leave. No one leaves this world without making a difference. Some make great positive differences: Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Einstein, Jesus. Some make great differences that scar our world: Adolph Hitler, Josef Mengele, Pol Pot. Some make small, but lasting, differences. We all leave a mark. Even the homeless man who shuffles through the drive through at our Starbucks each day for the free coffee they give him has a past. A story. Whether good or bad, his life left some mark.
Many aspects of our lives are within our control: what we go to college for, who we marry, where we live, the job we take. Some aren't: where we were born, who we were born to, illness, death. We can't choose to be born in Prattville, Alabama or Sierra Leone. We can't choose if we're born with mental illness, a birth defect, or something else that puts us a little behind the starting blocks. We can't choose if we're born into wealth, with gifted intelligence, beautiful, or with a musical talent. These aren't our choices. What we do with these things--with whatever we've been blessed with in life--is our choice. And our mandate.
Just as importantly, we must remember that we are more than the sum of these things. Our lives aren't defined by social status + education + talents and gifts. Instead, our lives are defined by something indefinable. The passion and drive inside of us that propels us to succeed, to give, to share, to love. To be more than the sum of our parts.
A truly good book isn't good because the plot is propelling, the characters are engaging, and the dialogue is realistic. A remarkable book doesn't leave its mark because the grammar was impeccable, the story arch clear, or the chapters consistent and relevant. The book that you read more than once. That you pass along to friends. That you talk about long after you read it. That you blog about. A great book transcends what appears in its pages. Reaches you beyond its words and characters. Touches you in a place you didn't know about or had forgotten about and brings you enlightenment in some way. I can only hope my writing comes close to this.