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Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Truth in "Paper Towns" about our perceptions of people

Today, I finished reading "Paper Towns" by John Green ("The Fault in Our Stars" author). Admittedly, I started it yesterday. That's the thing about John Green novels, once you begin them, you're compelled to finish them not only because of the story they tell but the kernel of truth revealed through that story.

"Paper Towns" is a Young Adult novel about a group of high school Seniors, one of whom, Margo Roth Spiegelman, is a legend and embodies the idea of a Paper Town. Her classmates hear her stories of adventure and freedom. Road-tripping to Mississippi to hang out with an old musician and learn guitar or getting backstage access at a concert by convincing security she was a girlfriend of a band member. Her next-door neighbor, Quentin, loves this idea of her to the point of obsession.

Then, one month before graduation, she disappears. Following clues left for him, Quention embarks on a journey to find her. In doing so, he realizes that she isn't what he'd imagined. She is, in fact, someone completely different.

When he finds her, she explains how we're all "paper people," two-dimensional to one another when we look from a distance. Isn't it true? We look at those we encounter everyday through the lens of our own imperfections. Whether it's the seemingly flawless relationship of another couple, the economic stability of another, the social charisma or emotional intelligence of that person who always knows what to say and melts seamlessly into any situation. The family who posts amazing vacation pictures where everyone is smiling and happy, never grumpy or whining. The mom with the pictures of her child's birthday party that are Pinterest-worthy with their creativity. The mirror-selfie of your friend whose body has transformed because of Les Mills, Crossfit, Nutra-system or marathon training.

We see these and measure ourselves against these snapshots that are actually highlights of a much longer stream of film. The best of a multitude of moments. And when we look in from afar, we can feel happiness for them simultaneously with inadequacies in ourselves.

But those images--snapshots--are the Paper version. It isn't until you allow yourself to be vulnerable and embrace others while sharing yourself that these paper versions fall away. Like cardboard-cutout Avenger superheros. It's the broken, cracked parts of ourselves that let us see inside one another's hearts. See our humanness. Our imperfect perfection.

This freedom allows us to be truly accepting of others by allowing them to be themselves in their imperfect brokenness. It also allows us to breathe in the knowledge that we can be loved and accepted for who we are and not who we're expected or envisioned to be. The paper becomes clay. And in that, we can stop focusing on the image projected and, instead, focus on the person being molded daily by all that challenges us and limits us in our own humanity.

From "Paper Towns":
"Each of us starts out as a watertight vessel. And these things happen--these people leave us, or don't love us, or don't get us, or we don't get them, and we lose and fail and hurt one another. And the vessel starts to crack open in places...Once the vessel cracks open, the end becomes inevitable...But there is all this time between when the cracks start to open up and when we finally fall apart. And it's only in that time that we can see one another, because we see out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs...Once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out."

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