Once in a great while, I’ll spot a book at Barnes & Noble that appears to be worth picking up and reading right there in the store. Maybe the cover is bright and attractive, maybe the pages are dense with illustration. I’ll admit to reading books by their covers, or at least picking them up for that reason. Most often, though, the books I read in the store are books of essays where the first essay is four pages long. I can afford to stand still and read four pages. It’s not a very big time commitment.
Today I read the Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan. That’s a link to the essay – you should read it too.
The essay affected me in that way that only works by people my age can. I read it and I see myself, I see my friends, I see the college community I was a part of not so long ago. The author and I worry about the same things (life after college) and secretly understand that this isn’t the end (we’re so young!). Growing up and moving on is terrifying but that doesn’t mean it’s also bad. We fear new and different because the norm is so comfortable, so reliable. It’s easy to forget that the current norm was once new and different and just as terrifying. Moving from high school to college felt, to me at least, like the end of all things – specifically, friendships, pastimes, locations that I’d grown to love. I was losing easy access to the hot tub in the backyard. Going to college was no better than a shovel full of fire ants dumped into my ear canal. But after four years, college became the norm, the real world the thing I feared. And now I’m in the real world and it’s okay, I’m alive. But even this new norm isn’t the end of change – there never comes a point in time when you won’t change.
There’s a better way to phrase that, though: There never comes a point in time when you can’t change.
For example, I share with Ms. Keegan the grim belief that someone, somewhere is both younger than me and more accomplished. There’s this soul-sucking notion that I’m not living up to my potential. That I could see more, do more, be more, like that mysterious other person who is really just so goddamn on top of it.
Ms. Keegan astutely points out, though, that there’s never a time when the mold has been firmly set and cannot be broken. Even as we age, we will never lose that potential to change. The potential to become who we want to be. And for someone such as myself, it’s so important to remember that I’m still so young. I can’t possibly have aged out of any experience worth having, any potential being worth becoming.
Long story short, I agreed with the thesis of the Opposite of Loneliness. So I flipped to the back cover flap to learn a bit about Ms. Keegan. Went to Yale, I saw. Essay read by over 1.8 million, I saw. 1989-2012, I saw.
On a roller coaster, there’s that moment when the bottom drops out and you’re barreling down the hill at 90 mph, your stomach plunging into your heel before soaring, hot and wet, back up into your throat. That’s what I felt, reading “1989-2012.” That sensation, mingled with sudden sadness and burning anger at the sheer irony of this young woman’s life. Famed for an essay about there being so much more time in life, the end of college being the end of nothing, simply the beginning of the next thing – and she dies young before her beginning can begin, before she could ever experience all that potential she wrote about so eloquently.
The universe is awful sometimes.