In a well-known essay titled “The Opposite of Loneliness,” published in the Yale Daily News in May 2012, graduating senior Marina Keegan wrote eloquently and powerfully about an unnamable feeling of togetherness that’s “not quite love and… not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together.”
Keegan, who died days after her graduation in a tragic car crash, captured much of what it means to live and work collectively with one’s peers for a finite number of years. There is something about this sensation, “the opposite of loneliness,” as she put it, that seems to perfectly sum up the elusive magic that we often forget exists around us in college.
But what does it mean to experience the opposite of loneliness at Stanford, and how can we remember to look around and appreciate it?
The reality of being at Stanford is one of constant anticipation. Before we even arrive, we look forward to jumping into the shiny newness of it all.
We wonder about the big things like whom our friends will be and what new passions we’ll uncover. We wonder about the little things too: Will we find a secret spot on campus to make our own? Will we get bored of the dining hall food?
But even after we’ve arrived and we’re living it and the novelty has worn off, we continue to anticipate.
We anticipate how much time and effort we’ll have to set aside for assignments; what score we’ll need on the final to pass; whether or not we’ll get a text back; how light we can make our schedules each spring.
However, we don’t really stop to think about what it means to be constantly looking ahead, calculating, mentally strategizing. This isn’t to say there’s something gravely wrong with planning: For some, it can be soothing; for others, a necessary evil. In either case, it’s useful.
But what happens when we look up and realize that in the midst of our ongoing anticipation of the future, time has escaped us?
When we continually anticipate what’s to come, we risk overlooking what currently envelops us — this remarkable and singular experience of being here, of having peers who are here with us, going through the same basic experience of trying to figure our shit out.
It might seem counterintuitive to actively seek out an indescribable feeling of community or solidarity, especially if you happen to feel remarkably alone on a campus full of people — but the act of searching for this sensation, for the opposite of loneliness, can be transformative.
This doesn’t mean that you will always feel a sense of belonging or purpose. But it’s a valuable practice to remind yourself that you’re not alone and that you’re surrounded by people who are also reaching to understand themselves and the world around them during this special moment in time.
Contact Cecilia Atkins at catkins ‘at’ stanford.edu.