Sometimes you read a book that just stays with you. The words are so powerful and so real that once they enter your mind they stay for days, for weeks or perhaps even forever. "The Opposite of Loneliness" is one of those books.
In my mind, Marina Keegan has become the voice of our generation, and it's one you need to hear. Never have I read such eloquent, beautiful and prudent words from someone who just gets it.
It’s like Keegan already lived 100 years and raced back to her 20s to share her wisdom and insight with us all.
This collection of short stories and essays acquired its title from perhaps her most significant piece, "The Opposite of Loneliness." This piece was written for her fellow Yale grads, and then it went viral, touching over 1.4 million people.
Tragically, it was the last of her articles published before Keegan's heartbreaking and untimely death in a car accident just days after graduating.
One of Keegan’s most poignant lines in this thought-provoking piece stems from her ability to experience life as a Millennial while simultaneously viewing her generation as an outsider:
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 22 years old. We have so much time.
Unlike so many young writers today, Keegan didn’t want to write about a historic or fantasized world, and she didn’t try to romanticize life for readers.
She just wanted to write about us, about our generation and the truth about the world we face both now and in the years ahead. Her words are fiercely honest, reflective and entirely real.
Keegan says everything we may not articulate, but certainly experience, believe in and witness throughout our 20s. She also says a lot that you may not have considered, but is worth taking another look at.
Here are some of my favorite lines from the collection:
Keegan had a deep appreciation for both the simplicities and complexities of life, and she had the unique ability to find a sense of love not just in people, but in everything that surrounded her.
I will live for love and the rest will take care of itself. 'Do you wanna leave soon?' 'No, I want enough time to be in love with everything… And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.' So what I’m trying to say is you should text me back. Because there’s a precedent. Because there’s an urgency. Because there’s a bedtime. Because when the world ends I might not have my phone charged and If you don’t respond soon, I won’t know if you’d wanna leave your shadow next to mine.
We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.
Throughout her stories, Keegan often talks about the importance of following your dreams and honestly pursuing your real hopes and desires in life.
It’s clear that hers were both simple and ambitious, but she made a point of ensuring that everything she pursued in her life was what she truly wanted and valued.
Her essay titled, "Even Artichokes Have Doubts," focuses on the way her Yale peers were sucked into careers they originally had no desire to pursue with giant financial and consulting firms.
She based her thoughts on the fact that 25 percent of the Yale student body went on to follow a career in these sectors, ignoring the path they originally set out for when they embarked on their freshman year.
What bothers me is this idea of validation, of rationalization. The notion that some of us (regardless of what we tell ourselves) are doing this because we’re not sure what else to do and it’s easy to apply to and it will pay us decently and it will make us feel like we’re still successful. I just haven’t met that many people who sound genuinely excited about these jobs. That’s super depressing! I don’t understand why no one is talking about it. 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 from 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.
On preserving our world
In her essay, "Putting the 'Fun' Back in Eschatology," Keegan shares her thoughts on conservation and doing what we can for future generations.
She talks about her responsibilities as an individual and mentions global warming, population control and nuclear weapons, but her final line says it all:
The thing is, I think we can make it. I think we can shove ourselves into spaceships before things get too cold. I only hope we don’t f*ck things up before that. Because millions of years is a long time and I don’t want to let the universe down.
Again, Keegan makes a strong point in just one sentence:
But as I watched him smile back at me and zip his coat, I saw everything in the world build up and then everything in the world fall down again.
On how we look back
Of course, there are things we wish we’d done: 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.
And finally, on looking forward
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 up 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 have…,' 'if I’d…,' 'wish I’d…'
Through her words, Keegan encourages you to believe in the possibilities and do everything you can to make a difference in the world.
You can start by making this text the next book you pick up this summer. I promise you, it is everything.
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