One week ago, I was rushing across the Yale campus to catch a panel on the presidential election and life in the White House. As was often the case during my undergrad years, I barely made it.
At that very same time a young woman, who had just graduated from Yale days before, lost her life in a car crash on the Cape. She was not speeding.
I would learn about the accident when I came back to Boston to anchor the news Sunday night. The initial information was a car rollover that halted Route 6 traffic on a holiday weekend. I caught my breath when I heard “Yale students.”
One of them killed. A new graduate. Magna cum laude. Writer. Activist.
She was about to start her first job at the New Yorker.
Each new detail added another layer to the tragic, senseless nature of it all.
By now, most people have heard about Marina Keegan. Her picture haunts us with that straight-on youthful stare of innocence and confidence. If there ever was a person ready to take on the world, it was this young woman.
I pictured Marina rushing around the same campus and packing up the stuff she had accumulated over the last four years as she prepared to move on to “real life.” (Should I leave the stuffed animals and banners behind?) I could see her rushing down the same walks to tackle her final exams with the usual dread, and sentimentality too. Her final finals.
While most Yale seniors, even the incredibly diligent ones, sleep and party during those heady few days between the end of class and the pomp of commencement, Marina worked on what would be her last essay. She reflected on leaving a place she loved and the first “family” she had chosen. College is the first time we assemble our tribe, the selected friends who ease the bumps and burdens we encounter along life’s road. The tribe changes as we keep choosing it.
If you haven’t read “The Opposite of Loneliness,” read it. If you have read it, read it again.
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...
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.
There are many reasons why Marina’s death has struck people far beyond Yale and her Massachusetts hometown. We feel the loss of her gifts, and worse, the loss of her potential. What parent doesn’t know the incredible sacrifice of time and money required to get a child through college? What student doesn’t appreciate the diligence needed to reach the milestone of graduation? What new Yale grad, diploma in hand, doesn’t recall the excitement of wondering how they will impact the world?
Marina’s impact is that she left us a permanent, eloquent record of the same uncertainty we all have as we take that step from youth to adulthood.
She was right on so many things, but one:
We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time.
I truly wish I could give Marina some of my time, the days and weeks I wasted feeling lazy or defeated. Her death makes me look back on the hours I let slip away to negativity. I think she would have spent that time more wisely.
As the shock of her loss lessens, and the void of her absence grows, I hope her parents know that so many millions of people are grieving with them, and that Marina is now known by millions more than could have possibly known her during her lifetime.
Marina reminds us all of something we lose too quickly… that wide-eyed love of our communities that we so often take for granted. Her special gift to the world was not waiting to take on and accomplish so much.
What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over.
We can change our minds and start over, be it at 22 or 82.
The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious… We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.
But most of us do exactly what Marina feared. As the years tick by, we lose that sense of possibility. I recall (now comical) moments of feeling old at 29. I also think of the people I admire for their youthful spirit and optimism at 79. And I think of Marina, who went out like a shooting star in the prime of her youth, before really testing her mettle against life’s slings and arrows. I think she would have been just fine… and probably written about it along the way.
How can one honor her life and this unbelievable loss? I will reach out to old friends from my college and grad school “teams” to recapture and strengthen the sense of community that Marina was so scared to lose. I will remind myself that we each have the gift of real community, even though it’s no longer as easy as walking over to the next entryway.
The next time I feel old and defeatist, I will tell myself that those feelings are comical. They’re hilarious. As long as we have time, we can choose to change anything.
I am going to appreciate the time that I have. And I promise you, Marina, to not wait for another untimely death like yours to remind me of that.
Janet Wu, a Yale grad, is a reporter/anchor at 7News.