The last few days have been bit of a whirl, getting from the Midwest to places rather far away while managing sudden illness. A very brief visit to Amsterdam is winding down, and while I’ve been awed by gardens and more, one of today’s sights to see was a simple one.
It’s the TFIOS bench (where TFIOS is short for The Fault in Our Stars, written by John Green). How to explain why one seeks out a seemingly ordinary bench off the beaten path during a stop-over of not much more than 48 hours?
It’s a bench central to the lives of two fictional characters, sitting quietly on a real street. Its incidence in a novel — and a movie — have made it known to readers.
The bench itself testifies to its place in readers’ lives and hearts. It’s festooned with the soi disant love locks that grew popular in Paris in recent years.
Yet because of TFIOS and the deep feelings it inspires, this place is sought out by readers. For all that there’s a motivation to experience something like what Anne Fadiman refers to as “You Are There” reading, it seems more complex. It’s a means of connecting to other readers, others who see this ordinary place as a site of meaning. It wasn’t long before it became apparent other people were looking for the bench, and as I moved along, two young women shrieked with joy and excitement as they ran toward it. We waved and smiled, and I watched from the bridge as they posed as Gus and Hazel.
It’s a place that spawns joy and recognition — we’ve found this bench in this new-to-us place, and we’ve found each other, too. It’s a way of creating happiness in conjunction with a story where joy is fleeting and balanced so precariously against pain. Our visits are about this beautiful and powerful novel, a way of joining our stories to the ones it tells. It’s a way of saying that we are okay and carrying TFIOS with us on our journeys, wherever they lead.