Recently, I’ve been reading This Star Won’t Go Out by Esther Earl (review to come soon!), which contains the journal entires, blog posts, and other memorabilia of Esther, a teenage girl who passed away of thyroid cancer in 2010. One of the ideas in TSWGO that has stuck out to me is transparency about life’s imperfections.
“It could have been easy to just recall [Esther’s] laugh, her idiosyncratic typing, her sense of bouncy fun, even her unbounded love, but it’s more true to her own way of loving to remember all the little cracks in her image through which she occasionally permitted us to access her deepest concerns and fears. She would want us to remember her authentic self, including all the imperfect parts. What’s the point of opening yourself up to your friends if they don’t notice you in your vulnerable state?”
-Arka Pain, Esther’s friend from the group Catitude
I feel like in general, people tend to think of cancer patients as fighters with resiliently good attitudes and circumstance-defying smiles. However, when you read Esther’s innermost thoughts in her journal, you see the suck that isn’t often admitted to. She was sad. She felt guilty about her lack of physical activity and energy. She was lonely. She was frustrated. She definitely wasn’t all smiles. Esther eventually confided these things in her friends, especially those in the online group Catitude. Her vulnerability and her willingness to accept others’ vulnerability are some of her most remembered qualities.
Let’s face it: everyone has flaws, unfun emotions, and negative experiences. Why is it so hard to admit it? Instead of realizing and accepting that life isn’t always rainbows and cupcakes, we hold ourselves and others to unattainable standards of perfection. We shame celebrities when they make mistakes. We only talk about cancer patients when they have consistently positive attitudes. We hide our own screw ups, hoping that others will only see the front that we want them to. Though we know that everyone has something icky, we’re rarely completely honest about it.
Covering up our flaws and ignoring others’ isn’t the way to happiness, and Esther knew that. She embraced others for who they were, and she revealed her true self to her friends, such as those in the online group Catitude. Now, she is remembered fully and beautifully in TSWGO, and her story is inspirational not because it is one of a perfect girl: her story is inspirational because it is a reminder than pain and sorrow and hatred and absolute crap cannot cancel out good. Good certainly doesn’t make the bad go away, but the bad doesn’t make the good go away, either.
Flaws are never fun to deal with, but hiding them cannot make them disappear. Esther’s story reminds us that icky things do not make our lives futile; good matters even amidst overwhelming amounts of bad. No matter how many flaws you have, you can still be your own little star, shining a good light that cannot be extinguished. Don’t cover up your true self; you be you, with all of your quirks, imperfections, and pieces of awesome. You are not alone, and your “bad” parts do not make you bad. Be yourself. All of yourself.