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Lonely and together

On closeness from shared tragedy

A month ago, I felt the now-familiar tightness, the now-routine clenching of my throat. Another wave of hushed conversations, another empty space in a familiar, yellow house. Another vigil, more prayers. Another loss of a bright ray of light, of sunshine, in my ordinary, predictable day. The strange loneliness of losing someone, of watching my friends struggle to make the winding walk to class on drizzly days. The struggle to fall asleep, to stay asleep. A good friend passing away on her afternoon run.

Marina Keegan, a Yale graduate who died in a car accident the week after her graduation, wrote an essay on “The Opposite of Loneliness” — that filial connectedness she experienced by the end of college, surrounded by friends, surrounded by a web of support and love. Though I know what I’ll miss most about this University is the love among my friends, that love has not been solely born from happiness, from comfort.

I don’t always feel the opposite of loneliness at the University. While mourning the loss of my friend, while reading last November’s Rolling Stone article, while watching the video of a another friend, bloodied and yelling on a dirty piece of concrete, while answering high school classmates at other colleges when they say, “So, I’ve seen on the news that you guys have had a rough year,” I feel deeply, profoundly lonely.

Lonely not in the sense of being alone — I am always surrounded by people — but lonely in that I’m not sure how to keep everything together all the time. And lonely because it seems like everyone else can.

What has it done to us, to our school, to have tragedy become routine, like the selection of classes, the yearly illumination of Lawn by colored Christmas lights, or the search for an appropriate formal date? What has it done to us, the students, to have tragedy and trauma become a tradition of the Class of 2016?

And then, to be asked to move on, to recover painlessly from these traumas, to present to your professor a proposed thesis later this week, to read a Vanity Fair article that attempts to summarize and package some of these events into readable words, to have to go to endless Sunday afternoon meetings, to continue to write articles, to apply to jobs, and to interview for that internship, fellowship or graduate school spot.

To speak about the past three years is to speak about those late-night surprise trips to Crozet, that time we streaked at dusk, those tables, that boy. But it is also to try and reconcile a lost sorority sister, an empty bedroom in an ivy-bound house, a school shaken by the earnest — and necessary — probing of deeply painful, deeply entrenched mentalities with the daily monotony of my unanswered emails and office hours.

Yesterday, after midnight, I decided to veer off my normal track to run across the McCormick Road Bridge, past the Chemistry Building, to a cluster of dorms and dining halls that look fresh, new, lit up with wide eyes looking toward the next few years, toward tomorrow’s Economics exam. I hope the first-years will not have to endure what we have.

And yet, maybe there is worthwhile joy discovered in the unmasking of sorrow — in the closeness discovered by people who are feeling acute loneliness together, and in the acknowledgement that I can sit next to a friend on a granite bench and we can both be together in our loneliness, our stress, and our confusion. A closeness gained in the acceptance of my U.Va. years as filled with darkness. But to accept these dark days and nights, too, as some kind of gift.

Grace’s column runs biweekly Fridays. She can be reached at


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