The Opposite of Loneliness and Other Back to School Thoughts
by Jack Rooney
Around this time last year, I first stumbled upon this article from the Yale Daily News (http://yaledailynews.com/crosscampus/2012/05/27/keegan-the-opposite-of-loneliness/). If you have the time to read both it and this post right now, I strongly urge you to. It is quite a remarkable article and it takes on a much higher significance when you read the first two italicized sentences that are all but hidden before the actual article. Marina Keegan, who at the time of this article’s publication was a graduating senior at Yale, died in a car accident days after writing the article at the age of 22.
Her pensive and heartfelt words become haunting—a tragic reminder of something no one my age wants to think about. Her unbounded hope for the future and belief in being able to start over again whenever and wherever are echoed in these words: “We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time.” But she did not have any time, really. And depending on who you talk to, none of us really have much time here on earth to leave our mark.
But this is where one of humanity’s great paradoxes arises. When we are young, we convince ourselves that life is short and we must live it to the fullest everyday in order to gain any sort of happiness. Simultaneously, we let ourselves believe, as Ms. Keegan beautifully put, that we lead long lives and have plenty of time to learn, explore, and start over. Some people buy into only one of these viewpoints. Others, like myself, accept that these outlooks on life are both true, although paradoxically so.
Life is short. Brutally and unforgivingly short. Especially when it is taken so swiftly and tragically, as in Marina’s case. But it is only short because we let it feel short. We settle into a routine and grow complacent with what we have accomplished and suddenly two months becomes two years which becomes two decades. I am too young to have yet had one of those “I woke up 20 years later and realized I’ve done nothing with my life” moments, and I don’t plan on having one ever. But I’m scared I will. Right now I’m all potential. I haven’t accomplished anything of any worth in this world, but by all accounts I am on the path to do so eventually. I’m scared about what happens when the time comes for potential to becomes action and I’ve got nothing to act on.
I don’t want my life to feel short. I never want to be satisfied with what I’ve done with my life. I want to be comfortable with my life, but I don’t want to cross the dangerous line between comfort and complacency. Because then I’ll wake up in 20 years and not be able to forgive myself.
What I do want is a long life full of work I love, people I cherish, and enough adventures to keep me constantly on my toes. I want what Marina wanted. I want the opposite of loneliness, whatever that is. I relate so much to her article because I know precisely the feeling she struggles to describe—that communal love, we’re-all-in-this-together feeling that you get in a group of people you care about. I want to slow down and enjoy life and everything it brings with it. I want to keep meeting new people and trying new things and someday meet that one person who I’ll spend the rest of my life with. More than anything, I want my best days to always be ahead of me and never lose the delusional adolescent hope I have right now.
As I head back to South Bend for my second year of college, though, I am left to ponder these thoughts and feelings and wonder why this article wandered across my computer screen again just this past week. It’s pretty indescribable how this brilliant essay has come into my life twice, each time right before I left for school. It’s what my Youth Minister (and one of my greatest role models) Kim would call a “God Wink.” (for those unfamiliar with the term, it’s that kind of divine coincidence that knocks you off your feet and makes you believe, at least for the moment, that everything happens for a reason) I did not actively seek out this article either time, but both times I have read it, I have desperately needed its powerful message.
Last year, when I was leaving my loving and supportive high school community, I needed to understand that I would find that type of family again in college and beyond. I took comfort in Marina’s words, and she almost single handedly quelled my worries about leaving home for the first time. This time, Marina Keegan again put my mind at ease, reassuring me that so long as I keep working hard doing something I love, then I will ultimately find happiness. And more importantly, I have a whole lifetime to do it.
Along the way I will certainly doubt myself and my choices, but I can always fall back on these words and words like Marina’s and remember a time like right now, when I had so much hope for myself and for humanity as a whole. And if I ever reach a point in my life where I can’t live with what I did with all my potential, I can always start over. I can always come right back to this point of unbridled hope and opportunity. I don’t plan on having to start over, though. But it really is comforting to know that I always can. But hey, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.