“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,” wrote Marina Keegan about graduating with the Yale University class of 2012. In her essay “The Opposite of Loneliness,” Marina describes the feeling as one of knowing you have an abundance of people on your team. People who are in this with you.
The candid and poignant essay made its way around the internet when Marina died tragically in a car crash several days after graduation. When I came across it, a few weeks before I was due to travel to the USA, I knew this feeling was exactly what I yearned for in my new home.
I wasn’t certain about finding it. I was traveling to an unfamiliar country for the first time, flying first to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and then on to Portland, Maine, and I thought I would be overwhelmed by the new environment.
When I arrived in New York I discovered that either the border control people or the luggage handlers had torn one of my bags. I couldn’t help but think that my new life was off to a bad start. I walked out of the terminal and, realizing that it was a bit cold, tried to retrieve my jacket from my torn bag. I unpacked half my belongings looking for the jacket, only to discover that I had lost it – the only warm piece of clothing I had brought with me.
You can imagine that by the time I arrived in Portland I was feeling pretty unhappy about my situation. But then, as I walked down the stairs at the at the Portland Jetport airport, I recognized Dean Reese, the dean of international students, whose photograph I had seen on the Bates College website. He was there to greet me and welcome me to the USA.
It was such a relief to see him after my ordeal in New York, and I took it as an encouraging sign that I, like Marina, could find the feeling of belonging to a community.
And I did find it. Dean Reese’s greeting was definitely not the only act of kindness shown to me in my new home. During the year I forged a great relationship with my supervisor Michael at my campus job. He is a thoughtful man and was struck by how I had traveled so far from home to come to college. His thoughtfulness resulted in many exciting conversations in between tasks, and our interactions made me feel like I was part of the team and appreciated.
During the week before Christmas, I was all alone in my dorm room wondering what it would be like to spend Christmas by myself. I planned out my special meal of roasted potatoes, pork chops, and some veggies, and figured out the logistics of getting to the store in the snow to pick up what I needed. On Christmas day I was going to Skype my family and maybe speak to my granny, and spend the holiday virtually with my relations back in Zimbabwe. But, unexpectedly, I received an email from Michael asking me if I wanted to join his family for brunch at their house. It was a relief.
Michael’s family made me feel welcome and invited me to be part of their traditional Christmas activities. They even went out of their way to buy Christmas gifts for me (which felt awkward because I didn’t get anything for them).
When my 21st birthday was fast approaching and I was clueless as to how I was going to celebrate this momentous occasion, my community came through again. To my surprise, a friend from my first year seminar learned that my birthday was coming up and offered to take me out for breakfast. It was snowing on the day, but we stumbled to the breakfast place and shared jokes about our experiences at Bates on the way. We had a riveting conversation and a delicious meal.
I have experienced several moments since I came to Bates that have caused me to reflect on Marina’s essay and how I felt when I read it all those months ago. The world lost an amazingly talented writer too soon, but I am grateful that she experienced this opposite of loneliness during her life.
“It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community,” she wrote, “it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt.”
How fortunate I am to have found this opposite of loneliness for myself.