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PARTING SHOT: On “the opposite of loneliness”

It was a beautiful spring day today in Charlottesville. Doors were open to the spring air as music drifted in and out of windows. People lounged lazily on the Lawn and professors let out class early. Guiltily, I skipped my one class of the day and spent my time sunbathing on the roofdeck of the house that I live in with 17 friends. 

As I so often am on college days like this one, where it seems like the days stretch long and a conversation around a table could last for hours, I was reminded of the words of the Yale student Marina Keegan in her essay “The Opposite of Loneliness.” 

“It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt…”

The essay would later become part of a collection of Keegan’s work compiled posthumously by her Yale professors and her parents. I first read the book as a 17-year-old who had no idea where she was going to college, no idea what she wanted to do with her life and no idea who she was. I was deeply anxious and uncertain about the future. I read Keegan’s work hungrily for some kind of understanding of who I wanted to be, of who I would become in the future and at a university. 

When I first read the book, I didn’t know what Keegan spoke of when she said that she feared loneliness creeping back into her life after college. I can’t say that I know that much more than I did four years ago, but I do know that here at the University I have had the wonderful pleasure of an endless number of people on my team. I understand, now, that Keegan’s fear wasn’t about growing up — it was about growing out of community, out of a sense of belonging. 

And now, post-pandemic and in the final three weeks of my time here at the University, I get to have beautiful days like the one today — days where we throw open our doors and let in the fresh air and smile at oncoming strangers. I get to experience the opposite of loneliness — however ephemeral, however fleeting.

One of my favorite parts of Keegan’s book comes from the foreword written by one of her professors, in which they tell the story of Keegan standing up in the midst of an English class. She declared aloud, “I want to be a writer, like, a real one.” If nothing else, I know that much as I move onto my next chapter.  In Keegan’s words —

“What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bacc 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.”

I’m graduating without a job, uncertain if graduate school or something else is my path. I’m entirely unsure what I’m doing for the next year or years of my life. The experience of uncertainty, though, has taught me to relinquish some of the control which I have held onto, white-knuckled, for so much of my life.   

Keegan’s story, as the story of people dying young so often does, reminds me to experience the now. To do what I love. To be who I am, whoever the hell that is. To slow down before I get old, to enjoy this moment which I have here, walking around on a beautiful day in Charlottesville. 

College — and graduating — has taught me that life is most certainly not about control, but instead about the people that you surround yourself with, the hard work which you’re willing to put into the things you care about and the way that you treat others. It’s about messing up, asking for forgiveness and having lots and lots of humility. It’s about entirely perfect days like today. 

Mimi Lamarre was a Copy Editor for the 132nd term, an Opinion and Fiction Writer for The Cavalier Daily Magazine for the 133rd term, and a News Staffer for the 134th term. 


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