It’s Not What You Take, It’s What You Leave
“The thing I realize is it’s not what you take, its what you leave.”
– All The Bright Places, Jennifer Niven
Do you ever wonder what marks our time? Are we merely just words on a page or memories in a photograph? People have always told me that life has one beginning and one ending … the rest is just a whole lot of middle. But I’d like to believe that life is like a novel. Sure, it has one concrete beginning and ending but it’s the middle of the novel that makes the most impact. The middle resonates with us readers and leads to that final moment when everything begins to give us some clarity; a final movement. We begin to feel and immerse ourselves in the characters and in their stories, so how can one possibly say that life is just a whole lot of middle? It provides it no substance and it implies that people are just muddling through life, doing the best they can with the things they have. Yet, we still continue to strive for numbers; from pounds on the scale to the amount of money in our bank accounts but realistically, how is any of that going to change when we’re dead; when we no longer cease to exist in our physical beings?
Now, all of you might be questioning why I was drawn to write my first review about the finality of death and our impact on this world while we’re stuck in the “middle“. Firstly, I have my own personal reasons which I may share in later posts but the main reason as to why I’ve decided to immerse myself in these ideas is because I was incredibly and profoundly consumed by these notions when reading Jennifer Niven’s YA novel All The Bright Places. This novel not only aroused my intellectual curiosity regarding the fascination of death and the “middle,” but ignited me to renew my passions and embraces my fears while continuing to make my middle meaningful. I resonated with the characters of Theodore Finch and Violet Marksey. I felt for these characters who lives had gone from good to bad to worse in a fraction of a second. I found myself relating to Violet and Theodore, particularly when they found themselves as outcasts in a world that is socially constructed by labels. Furthermore, I fell madly, truly and deeply in love with their stories both collectively and individually. I identified with them and suddenly, I felt like I became them.
Theodore Finch is a curious character by nature but his fascination with death ignited my own curiosity. I could not comprehend how anyone could stand on their high school bell tower, ready to plunge into the unknown (metaphorically that is). His curiosity created an innate fear within me but as I continued to read, that fear later flourished into realization. I began to realize how quickly this life could be taken away from me whether that be by my own hand or the hand of another far superior than myself. I realized my time here was precious and if I truly wanted to make my life matter, make my middle matter, I needed to plunge into the unknown. I needed to do something that scared me. Theodore Finch could be described as many things but a coward is not one of them.
Violet Marksey, also, had her own special affect on me. As I have previously implied earlier in my post, I have my personal reasons as to why this novel resonated with me and why the finality of death crossed my mind on multiple occasions while reading this novel. I understood Violet. I empathized with her traumatic response to the loss of her sister. I understood why she felt like an outcast. It was because I understood her pain. It was because no one could ever possibly feel the pain she had been experiencing by losing her sister; her best friend. I’ve lost a best friend; the greatest friend I had ever known, my mother, and despite how quickly time can heal all wounds there is always a part of you that’s a little empty. I’d be lying to you all if I said it goes away. It never goes away even when you try not to think about it. But isn’t that the point of all of this? To feel pain, joy and sorrow. To explore places that could lie in your own backyard. To take the metaphorical jump into the unknown because sometimes, you might come out stronger than you think you would. Sometimes, it takes a tragedy or an accidental meeting to change your perception on the world. I think we forget that sometimes. We forget that life has a funny way of working itself out in spite of all that we have planned for ourselves.
I loved this novel but not because it follows the conventions of young adult fiction. I loved this novel because I saw myself in these characters. I understood them. I empathized with them. And isn’t that the greatest joy? To read a novel that, with every turn of the page, resonates with you more and more. Maybe that’s the point of the middle. Maybe the point is for us to engage in conversations with people we never thought we’d have anything in common with. To venture into the world with nothing but our memories and to take in the moments where every problem we have becomes so much smaller in the grand scheme of things. To do the things that scare us because they might be the most memorable. When we die, our graves our marked from the day of our birth and the day of our death. However, what we fail to realize is the line that separates those two dates is a line full of moments and memories that make everything in the middle, the most important. Theodore Finch was right when he said that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave. So to all my readers, I encourage to make your mark on this world. To embrace you fears. To live fully. To live happy. The only words I can leave you with now is to have a great “line” and make the most of it. Because what we leave in this world is far superior than what we take from it.
Remember that and tomorrow might not seem so scary.