Regardless of its source, so it is this morning that I am shaking my head at the senseless loss of someone I never met: Marina Keegan, age 22, who graduated from Yale University last week, who was scheduled to begin a job in June at The New Yorker (The New Yorker! at 22 years old!), and who was killed in a car accident on Cape Cod on Saturday.
These types of stories tend to surface during this season of graduations, I know. They speak to us because they remind us of the fragility of our own lives, the mantra to never take any day, any moment for granted. But this loss is particularly poignant because Marina tells us exactly this in her own words, for she is the author of a powerful essay called "The Opposite of Loneliness" that was distributed to her Yale graduating class at their commencement.
You can read the entire text of it here, on the Yale Daily News: http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/may/27/keegan-opposite-loneliness/?cross-campus
Or, if you don't have time, then just these few paragraphs:
But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York. I plan on having parties when I’m 30. I plan on having fun when I’m old. Any notion of THE BEST years comes from clichéd “should haves...” “if I’d...” “wish I’d...”
Of course, there are things we wished we did: our readings, that boy across the hall. We’re our own hardest critics and it’s easy to let ourselves down. Sleeping too late. Procrastinating. Cutting corners. More than once I’ve looked back on my High School self and thought: how did I do that? How did I work so hard? Our private insecurities follow us and will always follow us.
But the thing is, we’re all like that. Nobody wakes up when they want to. Nobody did all of their reading (except maybe the crazy people who win the prizes…) We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay.
We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time. There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lay alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out – that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement.
When we came to Yale, there was this sense of possibility. This immense and indefinable potential energy – and it’s easy to feel like that’s slipped away. We never had to choose and suddenly we’ve had to. Some of us have focused ourselves. Some of us know exactly what we want and are on the path to get it; already going to med school, working at the perfect NGO, doing research. To you I say both congratulations and you suck.
For most of us, however, we’re somewhat lost in this sea of liberal arts. Not quite sure what road we’re on and whether we should have taken it. If only I had majored in biology…if only I’d gotten involved in journalism as a freshman…if only I’d thought to apply for this or for that…
What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.
My deepest condolences to Marina Keegan's family and friends. Know that we who just met her through the gift of her words also feel your loss and the loss of what could have been.
photo taken by me at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA, August 2011.