Beyond the Words

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// Joy Shan

Last Wednesday, I attended the reading of the the posthumous book by Marina Keegan ’12, “The Opposite of Loneliness.” I walked into the Yale Bookstore, down the stairs, behind a few bookshelves and into the alcove where the reading was being held. There were chairs set for about 50 people. I took a seat in the second row from the front, directly facing the podium.

When it was time, and the room was filled just beyond capacity, Marina’s dad stepped forward to make a few introductory remarks, and then the reading began. One by one, four of those closest to Marina approached the podium and read excerpts from different pieces of her book. I watched her professor smile in joy and sad remembrance and her friend smirk wryly, heard another friend’s voice crack as they read Marina’s words.

Marina passed away the summer before I started Yale. I remember seeing the portrait shot of Marina that is now the cover of her book and recognizable to millions of people across the world: red-brown hair, yellow pea coat, her face sporting the beginnings of a smile.

“Yale is full of tiny circles we pull around ourselves,” Marina writes in her eponymous essay. “A cappella groups, sports teams, houses, societies, clubs … We won’t have those next year. We won’t live on the same block as all our friends. We won’t have a bunch of group texts. … This scares me … But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us.”

I looked up at the blown-up book cover framed on the reader’s podium, thinking about these words. Over spring break, I was away from home and Yale, and every night, I fell asleep alone, with no parents or suitemates comfortably close by. At the foundation where I was working, the older employees reminded me to “enjoy my college years.” Each time, I’d smile and nod, but their urgency made me nervous — has my life already reached its peak? I couldn’t process the implications of what they were saying.

As I listened to the readers, I hung on to every stress, pause, smile, smirk and glance at the audience, stunned by the blunt bravery behind Marina’s prose. They felt like that first push on the swing, that first whoosh of energy from someone strong when my feet still couldn’t quite touch the ground. Marina had fought for our “college years.” For our ‘felt sense,’ as my dean would say. Her words breathed new strength into me to keep on moving forward despite the uncertainties of what comes after college, despite the popular notion that it’s all downhill from here.

Marina’s dad’s face was flushed red at the end, his eyes glazed over in emotion. Her mom spoke swiftly and gesticulated as she told us stories. Her high school English teacher showed us the tote bag that she had inherited from Marina. There were so many people that spoke for her that night — the impact of the reading reverberated far beyond just me.

I walked into the cool darkness with my hands in my pockets, quicker and more purposeful than usual. Marina’s words were not only beautifully honest or determinedly hopeful: They had been a transfer of energy that picked me up and got me swinging again.

In three weeks, I will have reached the halfway point of my time at Yale. I know I’ll reminisce over the summer. It’s been a breathtaking journey. Maybe too breathtaking for what’s to come, I might think. But then I will remember that the best years of my life are not behind me.

 

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