in which i remember a girl i didn’t know

Late in the summer of her sixteenth year, Esther Earl passed away “after a lengthy battle with human consciousness, a victim of the universe’s need to make and unmake all that is possible.” After six years of fighting a civil war within her own body, she succumbed to thyroid cancer, and left this world a lifetime too soon.

I didn’t know Esther Earl. In many ways, I don’t feel myself worthy to pay tribute to her. So I will not say that she was full of life, or fought hard, or died peacefully – I do not intend to cheapen her memory by compartmentalizing the life of a girl I did not know into a series of lessons for the living. I will not employ any of the clichés that imply her illness was the only thing that she was ever made of.

But I would still like to thank Esther.

Even though I didn’t know her, Esther has had a profound effect on me. She was a large part of the inspiration behind a book that changed my life, and continues to change it almost daily1. I am a better person because of Esther, and though our touch is indirect, I feel her presence just the same.

If Esther was still alive, today would be her eighteenth birthday. And so, for her, her family, and everyone who remembers her, today has been designated as Esther Day.

Esther Day is the creation of John Green and Esther herself. Shortly before she died, John told Esther that he wanted to celebrate her birthday for as long as he was around, and asked how she would like him to do that. John wrote on his tumblr yesterday, “She finally decided she wanted it to be a day that celebrated love in families and among friends. I think of Esther Day as a kind of Valentine’s Day for all the other kinds of love.”

Humans seem to have an insatiable desire to make the dead into monuments for the living. We fill cemeteries and museums in order to make those we have outlived into aspirations for us. We do this because we hope that, when we too pass on, we will be similarly memorialized. We commemorate the dead because we hope that, someday, someone will do the same for us. How terrified we are of being forgotten.

But we have been tricked into fearing the leaving of this world. This life doesn’t want us to stay here.

Esther died too young, and too soon, but her memorial is the sort of thing we can all hope to leave. Not a marble statue, or a plaque, or a street or a wing in a hospital named for her. Instead she left the greatest legacy a person can leave; a chain of people tied together by their love for her, a love which then spreads, like ripples from a skipping stone, to the others in their lives. Though perhaps Esther herself is no longer luminous, she nevertheless remains a conductor of light.

I am not always great at telling people how much I care about them. I usually am as sentimental as a bag of rocks, and I shy away from any cracks of vulnerability in my hard exterior. But today, I am going to tell the people in my life who shine the brightest how much they have illuminated me2. I have been blessed to spend most of my life surrounded by a cast of people who have showered me with praise and adoration disproportionate to my looks and abilities. I have never been short of friends, family, teachers, church leaders, mentors, and even acquaintances who have helped me see the extraordinariness of my own existence. My world bursts with people who believe in me. It would be impossible for me to thank all of them in a single day, but their names are written across my mind today. And, in looking outwards, we inevitably reflect inwards, and understand our own value a little better.

So today, I would like to encourage you all to celebrate Esther Day along with me. Do it in any way you know how.

And above all – don’t forget to be awesome.

For more information about Esther and her family’s This Star Won’t Go Out charity, click here.

For John Green’s reflections on Esther, click here.

For a book that will change your life, click here.

  1. Mostly because I read it. A lot.
  2. Gross cheesy light metaphor! Apologies.
  3. I hope that something in this post comes across with minimal pretentiousness and at least a smidge of eloquence. My thoughts are stars I can’t always fathom into constellations.
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