Sunday Reflections: Paper Towns, Miracles and Privilege
At the beginning of Paper Towns by John Green, the main character, Q, says that everyone gets a miracle and claims that his miracle is Margot. The rest of the book is a deconstruction of this idea that people are miracles that save you. People, he comes to realize, are just people. It’s a profound realization, this idea that people come into your life and save you.
I took The Tween to see Paper Towns and it was interesting to see the movie through her eyes. She was moved, in awe. Afterwards I texted a friend a revelation, John Green is her John Hughes. Right now, in this moment, Paper Towns is speaking to her in the same way that The Breakfast Club spoke to me when I was her age. She walked out of the movie thinking it was the best movie she had ever seen. It was the right movie for her at the right time. And as a parent, I appreciated the message that people are just people, that we must take responsibility for our own happiness.
For me, that day was a kind of little miracle. If you are lucky, occasionally you get them, little miracle days. People may not be miracles, but sometimes a moment or a day can be.
Sometimes the realization can come as you play ball with your kids in the front yard on a summer night. The sun is setting, the breeze is blowing just softly enough to cool you down, and you stop for a moment and really look at this child of yours and know that this moment is perfection. A miracle.
Yesterday we got invited to the lake house of a family from church. It was a miracle day I never thought I would experience. The girls and I rode on a boat. The engine hummed beneath us, the boat bounced on the waves, the wind blew in our faces. It was a majesty and a freedom I never thought I would experience in this life.
This family, they asked The Tween if she wanted to ride on a tube behind the boat. Though she was fearful, she said yes. I’m sure in part because she knew she may never have an opportunity to experience this again. As I watched her racing across the top of the lake hanging on to this inter-tube, I relished the joy and freedom I saw on her face. For me, as a mom, this moment was a miracle. This family was giving my child a moment I would never be able to give her and I was grateful that she got to have it.
This idea that people are miracles may be an unfair burden to put upon others, but it’s also true that there are miracle moments in life provided by people. I’ve read several stories lately about a person paying for the groceries of a family who couldn’t afford them at the grocery store – in this moment, those people are definitely miracles. This family that invited us to their lake house – in this moment, they were a miracle. After spending weeks trying to claw my way out of the pit of despair known as depression, my kids needed a moment of freedom and just pure joy. I couldn’t give this day to them, but someone else did and for this moment, they were in fact a miracle.
This idea of miracles, however, is troubling because it plays into this positive social media culture that seems to be growing. Just choose to be happy, be positive, someone has it worse than you they say. Sarah Mclachlan sings a line in a song (Black and White) where she says, “Everybody loves you when you’re easy.” Which is kind of what this positive social media thing is about; we’re supposed to be happy and positive to make it easy on others. They don’t want to sit in their discomfort as we discuss things like grief or depression or poverty or privilege. For some people, it really must be hard to see a miracle. When you’re hungry, scared, stressed out, depressed, even if there is a miracle happening right in front of you it’s so hard to see them. For some people, the miracles are few and far between. Asking them to pretend that they are in a space that they are not for our own personal comfort is not fair. It doesn’t solve problems, it just asks us to pretend that they don’t exist.
This idea of miracles and positive presence, it made me think of privilege. The Tween comes from a place of privilege in some ways, she is a white female who definitely meets conventional beauty standards. But she is also a part of a financially struggling family, she has a mom struggling with depression, her father works weekend nights which means he can’t really see her the only days she isn’t in school, and for the second time in her life her parents both work in different states. For the past seven months she has lived in a constant state of flux as to whether or not we were going to be able to move and settle into a more normal routine. Right now the Magic 8 Ball keeps saying “ask again later.”
Yesterday, she got a miracle. I can imagine there are a lot of kids who feel like they don’t ever get a miracle. When we hear them say this, we need to listen. Even if it makes us uncomfortable. And it’s important to remember that even for kids that sometimes get a miracle day, it doesn’t erase all the stress and fear and anxiety of the non-miracle days. A free meal on Monday doesn’t erase the hunger of Tuesday. Let’s not ask our tweens and teens to be any less than their authentic selves, because by listening to them we may just be given the opportunity to give them a miracle moment. And that is our real privilege in life, to be able to help others.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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