Last night I went to a reading of The Opposite of Loneliness. Do you know Marina Keegan? A Yale graduate who died in a car crash two weeks after she walked the commencement stage, in 2012, 22 years-old, a job at The New Yorker waiting for her and her boyfriend in the driving seat, whose parents assembled her work posthumously.
Her high school English teacher read. Her college best friend read. The girl she grew up with read. A boy she met sailing at ten years old, and the au pair she had at five years old -- they read, too.
Her mother, sparkly eyes and a smile that dropped just the other side of okay when you weren’t looking, told stories of her attitude and her aspirations. Her sass and her hopes. Her car. Her love. Her life. Her father, fondness on his face, missing her in his ever-moving hands, as if he were trying to grapple, hold on, to something nobody else could see, said he cried when he read the pieces on memories they’d made together. He laughed as he remembered her belligerence out loud. Her politics. Her questions.
Marina Keegan was in that room with us last night. She was in the hearts of every single body in attendance. Her energy was palpable.
Shit, I thought. I can’t imagine what mum and dad would be like if they were ever – touch wood, God forbid – hurtled into such circumstance. My eyes pooled at the consideration, heart skipped double-quick time. Maybe it’s true what they say about death being mostly about the living.
(I couldn't help but think, too, that should I pass, unexpectedly, prematurely (these sorts of events will make one ponder that way), who would I want to riffle through my archives, to assemble my stories, to understand what I was trying to say all along?)
Any questions from the floor, it was asked, then, and out of my selfish, indulgent, totally natural reverie, I found myself raising my hand, determined, wanting to speak first.
I've always been a hand raiser.
Needed to be heard.
Like she is. Was. Like her stories are.
I had a lump in my throat. I said, as I thought it, words tumbling one after the other in a way I hadn’t really planned, something like, Obviously we are here to celebrate the work of a women with so much talent, and so much potential, and what you've read tonight has been so very good. But as much as what you've done by compiling a book is in homage to her, to Marina, I think really, those stories are actually in homage to all of you. The generosity of spirit you've demonstrated inspired them. Your love created that. That you are here as the house that made such a force is remarkable. So… thanks. Thank you.
That book didn't start with her, in my mind, it started with them, because they loved her, and that love filled her every atom of her being. One sees that in her work. She writes like a woman uncertain of her future, but ever knowing that she’ll be secured by love in it. That gives her a confidence. A self-assuredness. Permits her to take risks, to leap into an unknown void in her writing, because in real life there’d be these people – her people – to catch her.
I also thought: this doesn't make me want to write more. Create more. Work harder. Last night, seeing her parents, her teachers, her friends, her community, so inspired by her passing to grant her the biggest wish she ever had for her life, in her death, I realised: it really is all about love. Her talent speaks for itself. But the people who adored her? Well. She must've been one hell of a daughter, and sibling, and friend and student and sailor andandand if they felt compelled to do all this. The book. The tour. The awareness. The forward push for her story, so that people like me can be brave because the words of people like her will be my net when I fall. Because I will fall, inevitably.
And so, to that challenge I will rise.
Pay more attention.
Check in more.
That's what last night taught me.
That you're nobody unless somebody loves you.
But to inspire that love, my goodness you gotta face your life head on. Love first. Love hard. Earnestly. Show up. Give it everything you’ve got in honour of that love.
I am processing so very many thoughts. Life is fragile as anxious expectations on a frosty Christmas morn, but in this much truth I am unwavering: it will not be to my work that I give my best, but to my people.
That’s what she did.