Voice of Truth

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“Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt” 27 December 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Aly @ 4:11 pm

**I just wanted to apologize for not posting anything for, I think, a couple weeks now. After midterms (which went very well, I think), I had to get packed for Canada! I have been pretty busy here as well, what with being exhausted after a twenty-hour drive to visiting all the relatives and playing with little cousins . . .  Anyway, enjoy!**

“Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt,” is a line from Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut. This line is one of those things that makes me feel very fuzzy inside when I read it. Here is the context of the line (page 121 in my edition):

“You must have some secrets about the war. Or, not secrets, I guess, but things you don’t want to talk about.” [Valencia]

“No.” [Billy]

“I’m proud you were a soldier. Do you know that?” [Valencia]

“Good.” [Billy]

“Was it awful?” [Valencia]

“Sometimes.” A crazy thought now occurred to Billy. The truth of it startled him. It would make a good epitaph for Billy Pilgrim–and for me, too.

And on the next page, there appears a picture of gravestone that says, “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.”

What a beautiful thing to have as an epitaph. I want to discuss the quotation more in detail, but first I thought it would be interesting to talk about this connection I noticed to Hindu philosophy. *hears collective groan of the Internets* It is not that bad, I promise! :P

Because I have been going to GCS for so many years (as evidenced by my many Thanksgiving place mats), several of the finer points of Hindu belief have been hammered into my mind, including one in particular, that God is omnipresent and we should seek to find his presence in everyone we know. In other (more secular) words, we should try to find the good in everyone. I have been trying to cultivate this attitude ever since I heard of it, because it is still something to strive for without the God part. “Everyone is beautiful, it is your job to figure out how.” That seems like something that could only enrich my life. Only problem is, I am not exactly very good at it. </digression>

The essence of the Vonnegut quotation is the same as this Hindu idea, because they are both about finding the best in things. A lot of religious teaching can actually make a lot of sense, especially when taken out of religious context.

It is a cliché to lie on one’s deathbed in acceptance and contentment. But it is also cliché to lie on one’s deathbed remorseful for everything missed out on. Seeing that “everything was beautiful” seems to be a worthy goal to achieve at the end of one’s life. It would be such a gift to be able to say as I lay dying, “Everything was beautiful.” To find that after going through a whole lifetime’s worth of troubles and difficulties, you also get a lifetime’s worth of joys; to not only be able to think this abstractly but firmly believe it; that would be a true gift.

I have not said much anything about the second half of the statement, “and nothing hurt”. I do not exactly know what to make of it. It is a very singular way of thinking, to be sure. But even though I do not quite understand it, it still speaks to me.  It makes me smile.

I just wanted to share that with everyone, and exhort all ten of you who read this (no, I think I have literally ten readers) to read Slaughterhouse-Five. And you know why? ‘Cause it’s just that ballin’.

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10 Responses to ““Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt””

  1. Priya Says:

    That was really truly beautiful. The way you explained it made something inside of me flip when I got to the end of the third-to-last paragraph. It is an extraordinary line, one that makes you want to sit back and just smile. =]

  2. Aly Says:

    It really is beautiful, isn’t it? Hah, Slaughterhouse-FIve is so quotable that it is really sad how much I think to myself, “Ooh, this would be a good thing to write down.” I have already read it twice, and I plan on reading it much more. It helps that it is not very long, of course. :)

    It is definitely the kind of line I would like to have posted somewhere so I could remember it constantly. I need to get on that.

  3. Lasha Says:

    i came across the quote in a facebook post – as a quote from the book, of course. However, I also am familiar with the quote because my friend has it tatooed across her left collarbone. She is unfamiliar with the Vonnegut allusion. For her, it is in homage to the better days in the US after she was adopted; before the family… had troubles. I can’t find my copy of Slaughterhouse, but MUST now get it ad read it immediately. Thank-you for the elucidation.

  4. Ben Says:

    When I read it my immediate thought was that it was sarcasm, because the book is filled with so much ugly and undignified death and struggling and pain. Then again you’re probably right since Billy thinks of death in the Tralfamadorian sense that everyone and everything is alive in certain points in time. I wont pretend to know, because I dont. For me, that book was like a taking a roller coaster ride on LSD through a haunted mansion, in the most pleasant sense..

  5. Hayley Says:

    I think the second part of the quote “and nothing hurt,” can also speak to the idea of lying on ones deathbed and all the cliches that come with that. People are always wondering whether dying will be painful and hoping that for themselves or for a loved one who is dying that it will be very quick and painless. However, I also do think that Vonnegut might not truly believe this idea to be true but is trying to point out the naive nature of these hopes that there is some sort of positivity within death. He tends to make cynical and sarcastic commentary about society in his writings.

  6. Carl Says:

    It could also be that Billy – and Kurt – had a lot of things that hurt, but do to our self-preservation mechanisms the memory of those hurts faded over time. And that’s OK, it’s each of ours to let go of.

  7. Gabe Says:

    I don’t mean to bring things down but I think of it as a kind of mantra Billy (and Vonnegaut?) had to try and repress his ptsd which brought him back vividly to his wartime experience. It wasn’t a coincidence that the tralfamadorians had the shape of a plunger and adviced him to concentrate in the happy parts of his life.

    • When i read that line in the book, I first thought that when you are dying those last few minutes of life are truly beautiful. In a way, Those moments are your last and you glance around one last time and realize just how special everything is. That actualization and hopefully the painlessness of your last moments make a beautiful last experience. It is the two things anyone can hope for when dying…being at peace with it and being pain free (if only for a moment).

  8. Brian Says:

    I’m thinking it was a symptom of the shared PTSD (Billy and Kurt). There become two of you, in a way, one the world sees and the other a watcher trapped inside, searching for solitude and unable to communicate. This one has whole conversations in their self while looking at an outsider, unable to truly interact. At some point the inside watcher becomes either angry and lonely in solitude, lashing out, or they begin life again content with themselves in the new reality. Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt. It’s a useful and nearly believable lie. Slaughterhouse 5 is one of the best books on PTSD ever written.


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