by Pat Nogoy SJ
Infinity and Beauty
It is neither the quotable words of Augustus nor the bravado he exudes that defines his rare ability to live in the moment. Even this “ability” goes beyond the labels of “gift,” “talent,” or “choice.” Beneath the exchanges of thoughts and dialogue with Hazel Grace is Augustus’ transformative encounter with the beautiful. He sums it up well when he told Hazel Grace, “Because you are beautiful. I enjoy looking at beautiful people, and I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence.” Hazel Grace knows that those words are not mere flattery, fancy pick-up lines, or romantic trifles. There is real sincerity in those words. Augustus is a simple person, a man without much explanations or elaborate thoughts. He calls it as he sees it. Is that ability, talent, a gift, or an effect of an encounter with the beautiful?
There are many images and concepts of love: choice, one, destiny, hope, joy, faith, and event. It is even described as truth and good. But, love, above all, is beautiful. Often, beauty is watered down to refer to mush, cosmetic appearances, feel-good romance, and sappy drama. Even detecting beauty has become an arduous task. The degree of difficulty increases with every expectation, prejudice, projection, meaning, and vain consumption. These layers cover, contaminate, and even control beauty. How does Augustus Waters escape all these traps?
Augustus chooses to welcome life as it is. In a chanced meeting with Hazel Grace, Augustus walks to her and strikes a conversation. There is no mention of hesitation, deliberate thinking, or philosophical reflection. There is no judgment or evaluation. It is a simple encounter, leading him even to invite her into his home. Augustus welcomes Hazel Grace as she is.
Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas emphasizes on the encounter and relation with the Other as the beginning of wisdom. The encounter with the Other, through human beings, provides an access to truth and goodness. What Levinas calls Other, Augustus and Hazel Grace reckon as infinity. Infinity shines forth in the Beloved’s face. Once the face of the Beloved captures the lover’s gaze, it simply dissolves unto the infinity that reveals. The face of the Beloved is not some mere appearance, but a kind of screen where the hidden infinity suddenly discloses itself. This revelation of the infinite is beauty. It is too much for eyes to see, hearts to receive, and words to contain. It renders the lover mute in his attempt to greet the beauty of the Beloved in the encounter. The richness of the encounter is inexhaustible matter for language to grasp. Grammar breaks into poetry, exposing its insufficiency in grasping the infinite reality glowing in front of the lover. A concrete example of this encounter is love at first sight.
Augustus Waters falls in love at the first sight of Hazel Grace. Her infinity bursts forth in the frailties of her existence and weary soul tired from wresting with life’s unjust suffering. Augustus sees again the infinity making itself felt in the finite; the same infinity that reached out to him in the face of Caroline Mathers. Infinity in finite. Augustus sees through Hazel Grace. He marvels at her revelation in the different colors of suffering. Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you. Augustus is able to detect love’s infinity reaching out as beauty even in the saddest circumstances. Beauty is not simply a sum of appearances and exteriority or synonymous to cosmetics, vibrant colors, and erotic images and idols. Beauty is the infinite richness that goes beyond the world’s standards and expectations. Beauty revealed in the face of the Beloved is not of this world.
The heavy burden of life’s unfair givens pushes Hazel Grace into losing sight of the beautiful. It is only in her repeated instances of encounter with Augustus where she recovers what she lost. Beauty manifests itself through Augustus’ sincere acts of love. Slowly, Hazel Grace takes notice; and, in Augustus death, she finds what eluded her for a long time. In recalling their shared moments, Hazel Grace finally sees infinity. She is able to marvel at Augustus’ beauty: a discreet, tender, and sacrificial kind. It is beauty, unassuming and outpouring in its poverty. It is beauty, gently warming her wearied soul in sharing her painful givens. It is beauty ever present in spite of its approaching death. Beholding Augustus’ beauty, Hazel Grace realizes how their crossing of infinities in loving one another is a wise decision. In each other frailties, they found real strength and renewed hope. This infinite love trespassing human time empowers them to be brave enough in embracing life’s cruel sentence. In face of imminent death, love’s beauty proves to be more powerful.