Drawn Toward the "Great Perhaps"

As I mentioned in a recent blog, the protagonist in John Green’sLooking For Alaska, Miles Cavalry, nicknamed “Pudge,” is a brilliant, friendless, nerdy guy who dislikes his school and wants out. Obsessed with biographies and last words, Pudge, in explaining to his parents why he wants to go to boarding school, quotes Francois Rabelais. “'I go to seek a “Great Perhaps.’”

I have not been able to get that line out of my head.

Read Jon Kabat-Zinn, Be Where You Are, read Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now. Read any Buddhist writer: Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh and you will be taught that all the power, all reality, exists only NOW. The past is gone. True. The future isn’t here yet. Also true. Therefore we need to be very alert and awake right now, living each moment to the fullest, noticing everything—as if we could, but I get the merit of the idea—and always, always, in order to bring ourselves into the present, we are to come back to our physical senses and to our breath.

Excellent. I’m all for it. I meditate.

But wait. What about the “Great Perhaps?" Doesn't that fit in, too? 

The “Great Perhaps” implies a future, doesn’t it? The “Great Perhaps” is a someday thing, something imagined, even if not precisely; it suggests hope, the possibility of something better, something fresh and new, something vibrating with potential. That’s what Pudge is hoping for and that is how he describes it. And that something, the “Great Perhaps,” is a concept that lurks within us all, pulling us forward into we know not what, but forward, nonetheless.

I recall in the TV series West Wing when, at the end of each segment, the President of the United States had wrestled the current problem to the ground, he invariably turned to his Chief of Staff with a determined, yet slightly wide-eyed look, and asked, “What’s next?”


Doesn’t the “Great Perhaps” imply that there could be, in fact there will be a “What’s next?” in our lives and furthermore, that we are inexorably drawn to it?

Perhaps our dreams and fantasies constitute our “Great Perhaps.” I’ve always wanted to spend a summer living in a lighthouse. I imagined doing this alone: alone, with the sea crashing around me, throwing up spray, roaring, swirling and foaming against rocks, and me, sitting there, surrounded by turbulent water, every day, watching and listening, scribbling onto a pad what the water was saying to me.

I have lived both on and also very near water, but have never gotten myself into a lighthouse. This summer while visiting s friend in Maine I picked up a magazine called Maine and found a picture of a gorgeous lighthouse situated on a small rocky island off of Boothbay. It has been turned into a tiny B and B. I tore out the page.

Done! I will spend two nights and three days in that lighthouse this coming August. Not alone, but there, surrounded by rocks and surging water.

I know. It’s not my youthful dream fully realized. (I suspect I am too old for that now.) It doesn’t matter. I am thrilled. At last I will be staying in a lighthouse. A “Great Perhaps” that never ceased to beckon.

And there are more to come, I am certain. The “Great Perhaps” continues to entice me, lead me further into God knows what—and I mean that literally. So--as much as I want to be actively present and awake moment to moment in my life, at the same time, I love this concept, the tease of the “Great Perhaps” and honestly? I figure, when the “Great Perhaps” is no longer tweaking me with future possibilities, I will consider myself to be nearly dead . . . and even then I’ll be looking for the “Great Perhaps” in some form of life after death. After all, isn’t that the ultimate “Great Perhaps?”


Written for What I Know to Be True by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at LifeOpeningUp.blogspot.com

Not In My Stars

Last week’s blog didn’t capture enough interest to fill a jam jar. It was by far the least read blog since I began writing them in January. I’m not whining; I’m just observing.

It’s too hard!” a friend complained. “I don’t want to think about all that: whether there is an after life, all my preferences and prejudices. It’s too much.”

The fault, dear friends, is not in my stars, but in my writing. How to make the ideas of eternal life, evolving souls, liberation and self-awareness more lighthearted? More appealing? I just couldn’t get there, which lets you know what a novice I remain at this business of communicating through words.

There is a writer who can do this; one who can, through engaging story telling, skillfully balance between the light and the dark of this life with words so simple and beautiful and characters so complex and beguiling that I am awed.

You have heard of the book/movie, The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green. You must have. Even though Green writes Young Adult literature—the only growing segment of published writing in America these days----yes, young people are reading---those of us over fifty must be paying some attention to this aspect of our literary culture.

I have read The Fault In Our Stars and marveled that an author could write such a heart-twisting book with so much love, humor and grace. Then I read Looking For Alaska and was blown away by Green’s ability to create characters that, whatever our age, we can all recognize and feel compassion for. Alaska is also a sad story but one of redemption and hope as well. Green never seems to leave us without hope.

And if I had his skill as a writer I would have wound a story around you, my friends, with that last blog of mine as tightly as Green winds the story of adolescent “Pudge,” the protagonist in Looking for Alaska.

Pudge is a brilliant, friendless, nerdy guy who, wanting more for his life, goes off to boarding school in search of the “Great Perhaps.” At Culver Creek he finds friends who turn him inside out, friends whose life situations educate him far beyond the classes he takes.

At the end of Looking for Alaska, a solemn and pensive Pudge writes for his religion class final exam: “I believe now that we are greater than the sum of our parts. And that part has to go somewhere, because it cannot be destroyed.” “ . . . one thing I have learned from science classes is that energy is never created and never destroyed.”

“We cannot be born and we cannot die.” Pudge continues. “Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations.” “ . . . that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end . . .”

The above quotes are from Looking For Alaska by John Green. I cannot reference the page numbers, as I should, because I read this book on my Kindle. But what I can say is this: no matter precisely where in the book these thoughts are expressed, about the after life, John Green and I are on the same page. 

Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at LifeOpeningUp.blogspot.com