The Augustus Complex
“I fear oblivion,” he said without a moment’s pause. “I fear it like the proverbial blind man who’s afraid of the dark.”
– Augustus Waters, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
It was the boring class of the wonderfully boring day when a girl who’s infamously known in my class for standing out way too much turned to me and asked me the question that I wouldn’t think to be relevant now as it was back then. “If you can only have two things in your life: Fame or money, what would it be?”
I tried to pull of a John Lennon-esque reply, that I would only want to be happy, but I philosophized that the idea of happiness can either come from things: Happiness out of fame by indulging in to others’ appreciation and admiration while happiness out of money by indulging in your own luxury and vices, expensive they may be. I’m in no way ashamed to admit that I am the happiest when enjoying a big buffet of Japanese food, or if I’m riding on a plane heading to places I’ve never been into or if I brought myself a collection of books by my favorite author. My happiness comes from money because I’m fickle-minded, I am spontaneous and I surmised that if I have the money, I can give yearly Christmas presents to orphaned kids and elderly in the nursing home while enjoying a sunny stroll in the picturesque streets of Florence at the same time.
I was about to answer “Money” but changed my mind after a moment’s hesitation. After some thought, I said, “Time.”
She didn’t make me elaborate. She nodded, smiled a queer smile and returned her attention to our old professor. I didn’t think of it much too afterward, but the reason why I answered that is something that boggled me to no end.
Which is why when I read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and stumbled upon this creature named Augustus Waters, he never left my mind ever since. I felt an unexplained inkling to the character the way someone would feel upon meeting an elderly woman that resembled his grandmother who recently passed away, or a homesickness to a place or an event in your childhood. In the first chapters of the book, when Gus revealed his greatest fear to the support group, he shared that he fears oblivion, the possibility of being forgotten years after he left this world. If my classmate could probably ask Gus the question she threw at me that afternoon, it would be easy to say that he will probably choose ‘Fame’. That even after he’s gone, there’s his legacy to make people remember him. But I guess it’s more complicated than that.
I wouldn’t spoil the ending of the book for you guys but to understand this character, you have to know his story. Gus suffered from a malignant bone cancer called Osteosarcoma and is now in remission. He understood what death is and how it leaves a void in the place of your existence. He wants to fill that void with his own legacy, his own mark, even in his own limited lifetime.
Looking back, I’ve always imagined what would people like Tolkien or Einstein feel feel after seeing how much of their works influenced other peoples’ lives. On how their names leave the mouths of the people in utter reverence and respect. It would be funny to see their reactions when they discover they have a cult following. What got me is how these people weren’t trying to be famous; they do so out of their passion of their craft or profession.
To leave a mark in this world had always been an enticing idea for me. But in my strive for my own immortality, I often end up falling short and hurting myself like every character in Shakesperean tragedies (Shakespeare is another case). I am a dreamer whose wings are too short and lacking. I found too much time on imagining what could have been if I were born smarter, or more assertive or more charismatic. Nietzsche’s “To do is to be” contradicts with Kant’s “To be is to do” in my head. What would it take to be build a great legacy in this world?That’s when I understood why I answered ‘Time’ on that Question. I don’t want to die the next day without having to fulfill my purpose. I need more time.
But Gus, in his limited time, lived fully. His influence may not be the grandiose dream he imagined it to be, but he sure as hell left a big impact on the lives of those people around him. He didn’t left a book, or a structure, or a scientific formula, or paintings for people to remember him by. He changed other peoples’ lives in ways he himself can’t imagine.
Gus would have chosen ‘Time’ too if given the chance, but he couldn’t. He did understood how he had to use it. It’s so amazing that how we humans make the best out of so little. Tell all the people in the the world that the whole human race will be wiped out the day after tomorrow and see what matters to them.
In the end, Gus made me realize that leaving a void in this world doesn’t matter at all. It’s leaving a void in other peoples’ hearts. A flower you gave to your mother, a favorite song you used to sing in the shower, a brand of cigs you used to share with your class ditching buddy or the movies you used to watch with your girlfriend… in these little, fleeting moments, for the people you left behind, you live once again.
[See the trailer of the movie TFIOS upcoming this June 2014]