Five Feet Apart is a romantic drama, released in the United States on 15th March, 2019 by CBS Films. It’s about two patients of cystic fibrosis (CF) who fell in love (with each other) at the hospital. CF is a genetic disorder that affects mostly the lungs, with no known cure. Lung transplants could sustain the patient for another five years (but only) before the symptoms resurface. It is characterized by difficulty in breathing and coughing up mucus, managed by taking or inhaling antibiotics.

Stella Grant is a tough girl who is determined to live, for her parents’ sakes. She has been battling with CF since her childhood. At the hospital where each of them is admitted in a separate room, Stella makes YouTube videos to educate people on the nature of her health disorder and cheer herself on. At some point, Will Newman, a young man with an even more serious version of CF; Burkholderia cepacia complex, comes around. He’s at the hospital for a medication trial in an attempt to get rid of the pulmonary bacterial infection.

This is a fact to take note of: CF patients are STRICTLY kept (at least) six feet apart to reduce the risk of cross-infection, which may be life-threatening. On no account would the nurses allow them to get close to one another.

After an initial (somewhat) dislike of each other, Stella and Will eventually fell in love, albeit they could not get close to each other, let alone touch or kiss. Their story is one of those curious ones where one gets to realize being able to kiss the person one loves is one of the greatest gifts one could ever receive in this world. There are people who’re in love but genotypes wouldn’t allow them to get married; there are people who’d pay anything to be with each other but cancer wouldn’t allow them to live long. As I followed the struggle and pain of Stella and Will in this movie, a movie of similar theme, ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ came back to mind. Love that promises to last, sadly, in bodies that can’t.

How we the healthy ones take life/love for granted! You meet someone who’s so much in love with you but the only reason you can’t be with her is because she has small boobs, or because she has big tummy, or because he doesn’t have a car, or because he’s not in your faith and thusly can’t make heaven (according to your scripture). Will and Stella would look at each other longingly, with passion of volcanic propensity yet wouldn’t be able to do the simplest of all things in the world, hold each other’s hands. And Nurse Barbara whose job is to monitor them, is always on the lookout to split them apart when they dare get too close. According to her, the previous CF patients kept under her watch died because she allowed them to get too close.

At a point, Stella picks up a pool cue (the stick for playing snookers) which measures five feet and decides to get as close as five feet to Will, using the stick for measurement. Bacteria robbed them of a life together, they are going to rob the disease of one foot in retaliation. In a YouTube video to that effect, she says: “B. capecia thrives best in saliva and phlegm, which also means no kissing, ever. So, our best defense is distance. Six feet at all times. Ya-da! Here’s a pool cue. It measures approximately five feet. I’ve given a lot of thought to foot number six and you know what? It made me mad. When you have cystic fibrosis, so much is taken from you. You live everyday of your life according to treatments, and pills, and schedules. Most of us can’t have children. A lot of us don’t even live long enough to try to have children. Shit, it’s complicated to try to explain, but it’s even hard to fall in love. So, after all that CF has stolen from me, from us, I don’t mind stealing a little something back. One foot. One fucking foot of space, of distance, of length or whatever you wanna call it. I don’t mind stealing that back, because CF… you’re not the thief anymore (crying now), I’m the thief now.”

After that, she runs to Will with the cue and tells him, “Five feet apart, deal?” Will responds “he’s so in”. In the middle of the night, they sneak out on a date by the poolside (within the hospital premises) and strip naked to show each other the scars (of surgeries) that have made getting naked in the presence of normal people shameful for them.

Most of us don’t know how blessed we are in this world; we are healthy; we are able, yet we complain so much about problems that have solutions. We don’t value the gift of sight when some people have been blind all their lives. We don’t value our abilities to stroll/jog when some people are helplessly crippled. We don’t appreciate the gift of hearing when some people have no idea what music is all about. There are people who can’t breathe on their own, the ‘we’ don’t need oxygen tanks yet we still manage to rant on the slightest of all headaches. Some people have leukemia they’re battling with, while you’re talking about marriage and a future in five years, they’re just hoping to live to see only the next day. People who have cancer celebrate each of their birthdays like the last. You’re there all healthy yet still hate your boyfriend for buying a cheap cake. You don’t understand the essence of life. If you have someone who has a mutually yolked love with you, and none of you has life-threatening health issues, you don’t know what advantage you’re enjoying. If you’ve not achieved your dreams in life but still has good health, rejoice, you have everything already. Be grateful; you have what even money can’t buy. On Will’s Birthday, he couldn’t even blow out the candles on his own cake, lest he contaminated the cake and make it inedible; something that’s never an issue for you although never appreciated. Poe, another CF patient had had a plan to get married to Michael, his boyfriend; he died gasping for air.

After Stella got a transplant and Will was told his treatment wasn’t working and he should hope he lasts long enough till another treatment is discovered, he knew he was done with and it was time to leave Stella.

He told her, “I’m sorry. I don’t wanna go. All I want is to be with you. I can’t. I need you to be safe… from me. I don’t know what comes next, but I don’t regret any of this. Could you close your eyes? I just don’t know if I can walk away if you’re still looking at me. Please.”

(She closes her eyes tearfully, unable to speak).

“I love you so much,” Will concluded and walked away.

Love that is strong, in bodies that aren’t, the reality of many names unknown across the world; the very reason we should be grateful for what we have, many people fearfully don’t. Patients of cystic fibrosis and cancer have ambitions too, they’re humans with feelings too, but life doesn’t smile at everybody equally. Five feet apart, that’s all life allowed Will and Stella. If you’re allowed more, be grateful. Live.

– Lord eBay (and his random ruminations, 2019)


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