I first heard about Marina Keegan when it was reported online that she had been killed in a car accident in 2012. Her death seemed all the more tragic because she had just graduated magna cum laude from Yale only five days before. I first read “The Opposite of Loneliness” and “Even Artichokes Have Doubts” from links provided in news reports; these and other writings have been collected in book form and I have included information about this at the end of this post. Even after she had been told it’s virtually impossible to be a writer today, she announced that “‘I’ve decided I’m going to be a writer,’ she said. ‘Like, a real one. With my life.'” It’s very easy to see from her writings that she was gifted and would have made her mark in this world as a writer, but sadly, that was not meant to be. “The Opposite of Loneliness” and what that is will be my focus for this writing. Before we discuss what the opposite of loneliness is, let’s take a look at loneliness.
Marina begins by saying “We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I would say that’s what I want in life.” Loneliness has never been on anyone’s bucket list for things they want to have in life. Even in the Garden of Eden, the first time God said something wasn’t good was when God saw that Adam was alone. To be lonely is also to be forgotten, and no one wants to be forgotten. We want to populate our lives with people and or activities that leave us engaged with the world around us, and to be remembered. Those who have great power and wealth have gone to great lengths to be remembered. When the Pharaohs of Egypt erected massive pyramids to make a lasting legacy for themselves, it’s as if they were saying “Pharaoh was here.” In a way we also want to leave some tangible proof to the world that we were here, that we existed, that we mattered and that we were loved. For a scientist, his “pyramid” might be a notable discovery or winning a prestigious prize that secures his place in history. A politician might try to create a lasting legacy through leadership and service. Explorers want to be remembered for their discoveries. Soldiers want to be remembered for their bravery and the battles they won. Writers want to be remembered for their contributions to literature. If we are remembered, it’s because we had this “opposite of loneliness” during our life. So what is it?
Marina Keegan gives us a description of what she felt the “opposite of loneliness” is, and to me, it sounds like what I felt in my high school days. Somewhere in my sophomore year of high school, I realized something: “Life won’t give me a chance to repeat this time in life. Once high school is over, it’s over.” Marina described the opposite of loneliness this way:
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…Yale is full of tiny circles we pull around ourselves. A cappella groups, sports teams, houses, societies, clubs. These tiny groups that make us feel loved and safe and part of something even on our loneliest nights when we stumble home to our computers—partnerless, tired, awake. 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. (1)
I realized I was about to lose my “opposite of loneliness” when it came time to graduate from high school, and like Marina, I was uncomfortable about it. I was about to enter a new and uncharted area in life, and this caused me to reevaluate what I was doing (or not doing) in school. When I finally understood that this opposite of loneliness I had was going to end one day and I would no longer have the familiar life of I was living any more, I decided to make the most of high school. I almost failed my freshman year and I didn’t care, but after my epiphany I was getting awards for perfect attendance and honor roll. Even after all these years some of my strongest and best memories are from this time in life, and it’s gratifying to be remembered at reunions.
But is the opposite of loneliness really something we cannot find a word for? If English doesn’t have a word that exactly fits the bill, maybe we need to look outside our language, In the New Testament Greek, they had a word called koinonia that may be a candidate for the opposite of loneliness. Koinonia was used in association with life in the early church, and as we explore what this word means, it will help us find an answer to the appellation of the opposite of loneliness. According to Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, koinonia generally means:
“fellowship, communion, participation, sharing.” It can refer to the mutual interests and sharing of members in the community of faith, the church…John uses koinonia to refer to the Christian fellowship we have with one another (1 Jn. 1:3, 7). This fellowship is centered in and based on our common fellowship with the Father and his Son, Jesus (1:3, 6). (247)
The Christian concept of fellowship was founded on love and it centered on our Savior, the Lord Jesus. Those who participate of Christian koinonia were disciples who sought to walk in the same steps as Jesus. The presence of Jesus in koinonia is a different type of koinonia than one without Him.
The opposite of loneliness that Marina Keegan described was for a specific time. In her case, the opposite of loneliness was in effect during her days at Yale. The opposite of loneliness that describes a special time of togetherness in our lives that ends one day is only one type of opposite. There is another type of opposite that is enduring and doesn’t have an ending. This may sound incredible, but it is true, and if Marina was aware of it at the time of her writing, I feel sure she would have spoken about it. So what are we talking about? Let me illustrate it by introducing you to another young woman named Katie Davis Now Katie Davis Majors).
Katie Davis is close to the same age as Marina, and she was so touched by this enduring kind of opposite that it changed the course of her life. If you looked at Katie’s life from an earthly perspective, she had an opposite of loneliness that many would envy:
For as long as I can remember, I had everything the world said was important. In high school, I was class president, homecoming queen, top of my class. I dated cute boys and wore cute shoes and drove a cute sports car. I had wonderful, supportive parents who so desired my success that they would have paid for me to go to college anywhere my heart desired. (XVII)
So what is the difference between Marina’s opposite of loneliness and Katie’s? We see it in Katie’s favorite Bible verse: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37: 4). The opposite of loneliness that changed Katie’s life was the Lord Jesus; His presence made the opposite of loneliness (or koinonia) something enduring and doesn’t fade away. It inspired her to a life she never dreamed for herself:
The fact that I loved Jesus was beginning to interfere with the plans I once had for my life and certainly the plans others had for me. My heart had been apprehended by a great love, a love that compelled me to live differently. I had grown up in a Christian home, gone to church, and learned about Jesus all my life. Around the age of twelve or thirteen, I began to delve into the truths of Scripture. As I read and learned more and more of what Jesus said, I liked the lifestyle I saw around me less and less. I began to realize that God wanted more from me, and I wanted more from Him. He began to grow in me a desire to live intentionally, and different from anyone I had ever known. (XVII-XVIII)
Katie Davis found an opposite of loneliness that never goes away when she allowed Jesus in to her life. This doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any more problems, but it does mean that the Lord Jesus is always at her side, teaching her how to live an overcoming life, loving people through her and giving her strength when she is weak. She currently lives and serves the people of Uganda thousands of miles away from her home in America and family. She has determined that she doesn’t “want to miss what He has for me. Ever, ever again.”
We don’t have to worry about losing the benefits of the opposite of loneliness if we will take hold of the one that never ends. We can and should appreciate the special times of our lives as we go through life, but we should treasure above all else the fact that through the love of God we have a koinonia with Jesus ends loneliness forever.
Please don’t interpret this post as some kind of attack on the memory of Marina Keegan; that is not my intention. Marina’s words on her graduation day were “I will live for love and the rest will take care of itself,” and from what I could see in her writings, she wanted to live a life of purpose and to make the world a better place. I want those who remember Marina to know she hasn’t been forgotten, and that her desire to live for love is just as important today as when she expressed it. My intention is to make clear that there is an opposite of loneliness that has a beginning and end, and another that never ends. Jesus Himself said:
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28: 18-20, NASB)
This never ending opposite is available for anyone who is willing to repent, turn away from evil and receive God’s forgiveness. We have this precious promise: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1: 9, NASB). When we do this, we are reconciled with God and we have fellowship with Him! Please give these things serious thought because much depends on how you receive this and act on it.
If you would like to learn more about Marina Keegan and Katie Davis, here is some additional information:
A collection of Marina Keegan’s writings are available in the book “The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories” with an introduction by Anne Fadiman.
ISBN 978-1-4767-5391-1 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-4767-5362-1 (ebook)
You can visit a Facebook page celebrating Marina Keegan’s life at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/387194241326318/
Katie’s ministry is called Amazima, which is a word for truth. The ministry website contains up to date information about the work of the ministry and Katie’s blog.
Katie Davis also has a book called “Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption.”
ISBN 978-4516-1210-3 (ebook)
Sivan 13, 5776
One thought on “Revisiting Marina Keegan’s “The Opposite of Loneliness””
I appreciate your kindness, but not the use of my daughters work to spread your message…..does a cloistered nun have the opposite of loneliness?.. Or a monk?… Sure, we all should appreciate
the spiritual benefits of faith…..
But we need more….. Community, etc… it could come from a church or religious fellowship….
You did nail it with understanding the “live for love”
Thanks for writing,