Dearest Hazel Grace,

We are the same. Yet we are not.

For starters, we both constantly feel like our final moments have arrived.

However, pitting asthma against lung cancer is like comparing a wilted flower to a bud stepped on by that obliviously callous little boy who could care less about anything other than his favourite toy— that toy, which is his world.

Believe me, I am gratified by this upgradation from Hotel Hell every single day. But over time, I’ve learned how suffering is totally subjective. Dark water in your lungs may be the lack of air in mine, which for someone else may be abstention from cigarettes in tragic times.

Do you see? We are the same. Yet we are not.

Everyone wants a place to belong in this world— a tribe.

So, I started to swim and run. And God, I felt so alive. So alive, Hazel Grace. Before the weight of the world collapsed on my shoulders again, and I tumbled into nothingness.

A lesson for life? If ever in distress, listen to neither your heart nor your brain. They fool you. Their yearnings, fatal baits for momentary happiness. Always listen to your lungs in that case. You want to be alive, not happy, don’t you?

Don’t you?

Nevermind.

I started reading then. A decision my mind, body, and lungs were in sync with. And then, I met you.

You slowly became my tribe. Your world, a place I belonged.

We are the same. Yet somehow, we’re not.

Kids our age drink and smoke. We have done that our whole lives. The only difference is that we take shots of cough syrup and inhale the fumes of our beloved nebulizers and inhalers. In our defence, cough syrups taste as bad as alcohol. I hope I never get to confirm this tight spot.

Maybe if they knew better, they’d never give their killers the power to kill them.

Maybe if I could wish for all that air taken for granted, I would. I do.

I swear, I’d hold on to it as tightly as a mother holds on to her newborn baby.

We’re the same. Don’t you get it? We’re the same.

We have to live with caution. Eat with caution. Move with caution. Feel with caution. Because God knows, my lungs get furious when I cry too much.

Maybe it’s a privilege, you know? To savour life the way we do.

Every time a fresh batch of oxygen touches my naked lungs, I feel like all the galaxies line up for me to behold. Because as astounding as it is, the universe is generally just dark and cold.

We’re the same. We’ve always been the same.

We’re the ones with no fault in our stars. For what are stars, if not the scars of the sky that we cherish so profoundly?

And I know that pain demands to be felt. But I would rather feel the pain than nothing at all, Hazel Grace.

I know you would, too.

– Ananya Mishra, Somerville School, Noida

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