I have a new theory, and it’s inspired by a book I’ve been reading, The Fault In Our Stars.
Spoilers in this post
In the book, the main charcter is a 16-year-old girl, Hazel, who has cancer. The everpresent barrier in the narrative is that Hazel is running out of time. The author makes it clear that she will not recover — that this will soon come to an end. And because of that, her world feels small. She flies overseas with her oxygen tank and her world feels small. She loses her virginity and her world feels small. As a reader, I couldn’t see past her looming death.
After all, the world is only as big as you can envision it. And if the end is near, how big can it possibly be?
But there’s a beautiful scene where she finds out her parents have plans for what they’re going to do after she dies. They’re ashamed and scared to admit it to her. But when she finds out, she is ecstatic. At first, it seems she was happy for her parents — but from that point on, her world seemed to get a little bigger.
So the theory goes: The size of the world we perceive isn’t just dependent on the places we can observe, but also the time we can foresee. As the time we can foresee runs out, the world gets smaller.
So when Hazel could see past her death, the claustrophobia that haunted her life was lifted.
I don’t know if John Green, the author, meant for this message to be a part of his novel. But once I noticed this, I couldn’t stop seeing it. I couldn’t stop thinking of it. And I thought, “I like my world to be wide and expansive. I don’t want to ever feel like the world is closing in on me.”
But decisions are made based on how big the world is to us. As time runs out, surely people think, “I wish I did this differently.” I used to think people’s worlds shrunk as they saw and experience more of it. But now I wonder if it’s not experience, but rather the distance to the end, that shifts out perception of what the world is.
I sit here and think I have so much time left. The world is big to me. The world is hopefuly to me. So I think, “There’s no need to panic.” But in The Fault in Our Stars, and in life, the size of the world seems to be merely an illusion — and that illusion is dangerous. There will always be more places to see and more time to experience. The question I suppose we all wrestle with is what to prioritize, but the illusion of the world’s size seems to convince us that we can mess up that order and have time later to get to the important stuff.