We don’t realize how much we don’t know, how much our eyes gloss over in a dayーin an hourー and don’t question. There are things we don’t know about until we need to, or things we’ll never know we didn’t know. There are gaps in our logic, memory, and thinking that we may discover too late, or never at all. We never see the gaps because we’re too busy trying to fit in. We’re always trying to look and sound like everyone else. We act like everyone else, essentially trying to be everyone else. It always comes back to everyone else, and we all fall victim, no matter how hard we try.
When I was a third grader, I’d sit in class as my eyes would pass over the words in the book I was supposed to read. In a few days I’d have to pick another, but all the books felt the same, maybe they were trying to be like everyone else too. All of them, except for The Lightning Thief, because from the very start Percy was different.
Percy didn’t live in an imaginary city or alternate dimension. He lived in New York. He didn’t have a picture family, with the pet dog and picket-fence house. He was older, someone I could look up too. He seemed real, more so than any other protagonist I had ever read about.
He was even just as confused as I was about the world we learned about together, the one you invited us into.
I was hooked.
It took me a while to realize it though. Somewhere between the late nights reading by the light of a lamp and the days with my nose caught up in his adventures I realized I would never be the same. I learned I was meant to be different, I shouldn’t waste my life trying to fit in when there were things only I could understand. Monsters only I could see. Things only I could fight.
A lot of the time it is easy. I could have a difficult test in a week, or have to deal with the spider that always seems to be in my room. Challenges that seem simple, maybe even trivial once they pass. But I think we both know that everything cannot always be that easy. As we’ve grown, Percy and I have had to face bigger, scarier, and stronger monsters. We’ve had to help others through the unthinkable, and, exponentially worse, sometimes we’ve had to step aside and watch them walk the path alone.
To me, this is most evident when Percy lets Annabeth embark on her solo quest, knowing he cannot help her, and knowing he may never see her again. In that scene alone, Percy taught me so much, including the fact that our fights aren’t the only ones we face. We can’t fix everything and help everyone, no matter how hard we want to.
Sometimes the most we can do for someone is lead them where they need to go, most of the time, that’s where we realize how much they truly have to fight. We all have those moments. Mine happened in the Pediatric Care waiting room of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where I realized how dire my younger cousin’s situation is. I looked around and saw the state heーonly a toddlerーwas in not even a year ago. Where he could be if ーGods forbidー his Neuroblastoma continues to fight treatment.
Without Percy, I wouldn’t have researched the childhood cancer. I wouldn’t have known how what is supposed to grow into functional nerve cells develops into tumors instead. The child’s body is then exposed to a flurry of other neurological conditions that can slow development, or even stall it completely. Without the seed of bravery your books have planted in me, I wouldn’t have been able to look at the scar on the back of his little head, which now sports a soft layer of brown hair.
One of the only reasons I read article after article was because I could hear the characters you wrote telling me to keep reading. Annabeth told me I need to know what he is dealing with. Sadie said that names have power. Reyna ordered me to rid my pity, because it won’t save him. Their voices were the loudest, I think, because I connected the most with them. I saw what I wanted to beーwanted to achieveーin them during the course of every single one of your books. They became my role models, my mentors, and my friends, and I’ve taken from all of them.
The Lightning Thief opened up the world of literature to me when I was in third grade. If I had never read it, I might never have come to appreciate the power of a single word, let alone the multiple thousand in any given book. Because of you and Percy, I have become a true serial reader. Starting one book as soon as I finish the last, one of the only reasons being that I truly can’t get enough.
I’m trying to learn as much as I can in whatever time I can grasp in this world. Who can blame me? No one knows how much time they have left. Just as I said before, we don’t realize how much we don’t know. No matter how much I read, I will never read every book. I will never even come close. I, just like everyone else, have to make the best of it and all the other aspects of my life.
Instead of trying to be like everyone else, now I try to leave an impression on them, however small it may be. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if any of my classmates remember me when we are older. In ten, twenty, thirty years, I’ll know other people, and so will they.
Life does not wait for us to catch up. It does not let us pause the narrative and think things through. We cannot relive the same chapter over and over because it touched us, or because we are afraid to move on. Skipping a few pages is not an option either. Life makes us live through every moment. Every plot twist, cliffhanger and antagonist will be worth it, as long as we stay true to ourselves in the process.
Today is what counts, not tomorrow or yesterday. One silly joke or annoying pun could spark the laugh that makes someone’s day manageable, maybe even great. If I can do that to everyone I encounter, if only once, does it really matter if they remember me?
After all, I always seem to be the one who remembers the smallest, minute details in everything I encounter. I’m able to recite songs after a few listens and reference quotes by heart. Maybe it is all because of the attention to detail you show in your writing. It has helped me, and motivated me to do the same, noticing the smaller things in life. The hundreds of thousands of details that I would have missed had I not been inspired to pay attention to things because of your books.
When I think of your books, I think of the supernatural that science cannot explain. You introduced me to kids who can fly, who can bend water to their will, and raise chauffeurs from the dead, a scientific explanation would alter the picture I have long ago painted in my head. In your books Greek mythology is a fairy tale for the rebellious spirit inside all of us. Your characters inspire me to go out into the world and stand for what I believe in. I won’t give up or back down because of them.
When I was a child, your books made me feel as though I was encountering something I could not yet fully understand. Now I see I was probably right, but that has given your books the time and ability to place a lasting impression on me. Over the years, those books have not changed since I have read them, what has changed is what they mean to me.
To this day, whenever I glance upon a copy of The Lightning Thief or any one of your children’s books, I can’t help but smile because I remember the magic I felt while reading them. I know I won’t feel the magic when I ever read your books again, but I also know that I’ll be welcome at Camp Half-Blood forever, and that a part of me will never leave.
I’ve learned so much from your books and subsequently so many others, and I will be forever grateful. I have to cherish every moment I can, and do the best for people, but I cannot lose myself along the way. Percy Jackson has helped me realize we don't choose who we are, we choose who we become, which is possibly the best lesson I have ever learned.
I’m glad Percy looked back and told me his story.