It’s early in the morning. I just got off a bus in Santiago and am surrounded by a crush of people as we wait for the subway to open. Mornings in Santiago are cold so I am sniffling. I’ve been in Chile for three months now, but sometimes when I look up quickly from my computer or a book it takes a few seconds for me to remember where I am and what I’m doing here. In the entrance to the subway I pull out my cellphone and read The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan.
Marina’s writing is wise. And honest. She writes about jealousy, the “laughable jealousies” of the young and ambitious that most of us are afraid to mention. She writes about love, love for each other, for whales, for our parents, love embodied in a gluten-free shortcake or a grain of rice. She writes, again and again, about our place in the universe, about the sun burning out and human history fading into nothing, about what it means to create and to write knowing that it all turns to dust.
Marina died at 22 in a car accident. Just days before, she had published The Opposite of Loneliness, a graduation piece for The Yale Daily News from which the collection takes its name. What do we call it when someone inks such a stirring declaration of togetherness and hope right before they die? When that declaration is read more than 1.4 million times by people around the globe? When someone’s last written words are more soaring and moving than a eulogy could ever hope to be?
A bitter miracle, maybe. A miracle as bitter as an early death and as bright as a brilliant youth.
Her teacher, Anne Fadiman, mentions that Marina kept a list of interesting stuff, single-spaced pages filled with descriptions of strangers’ hand gestures and eyes, memorable phrasings and events. I pause from the book to look up at the crowd around me, at the hundreds of people packed together near the subway entrance. I take in conversations between mothers and daughters, tired eyes, a beautiful old lady, a man’s facial tic, a young couple whispering into each others’ ears. There is so much interesting stuff. Marina isn’t in the crowd with us anymore. She can’t see the interesting stuff but she can help us see it clearer. Like so many others, I am thankful that she lived.
Miracles make us feel gratitude and awe. Bitter miracles make us feel thankful and angry, awed and utterly lost.