Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Eulogy, Alive

As many of you know, I've been lucky enough these past two years to get to know the family of one of my role models, Marina Keegan, and have been working with them on a literary tour for her first book, which was just released this April. Marina is an incredible poet, playwright, author, activist, and human who was killed in a car crash four days after graduating from Yale in 2012. Hundreds of people have flocked to book readings of The Opposite of Loneliness along the East Coast to get, just for a moment, a glimpse of what hearing Marina's words read aloud can be like. I was honored last Friday to be invited to be a reader at one of these events, and to read Keegan's essay The Opposite of Loneliness, which she originally composed as a commencement speech, and after which her book is named.

I was thankful to have a number of friends attend the event, and each and every one was struck by the power and pertinence of Marina's expression, which can be described by no words except her own. That is, you have to read Keegan to realize she understands how to phrase these things we all go through as humans, perfectly and with humor and poignance.

But what struck my closest friends, the ones who stayed on after the event to hug me and meet the Keegan family, was how something like this can bring people together. Not just the death of a brilliant young person, but the celebration of genius after it is gone, and how we come together to appreciate beauty with every ounce of ourselves after we have been re-alerted of its existence and once it seems later than we would have liked. There was more energy in the cramped back room of that bookstore than at a concert, and more love among those strangers than at a family reunion. I assured one friend who pointed out this ineffable feeling that Marina Keegan had the ability to bring people together in this way throughout her life. To make people slow down and savor the very moment they were living, not because they might not have a tomorrow but just because it was beautiful and precious regardless.

Sometimes we forget that. I know I personally ooze with admiration and affection for a lot of people who might not know it. Sometimes we're too busy living our lives to appreciate our lives themselves, or the fact that we have the people we do around us. It's a tricky concept to articulate and it's nothing new but just in that moment it hit us: we need to have gatherings like this while people are still around. I've scoured my inbox for correspondences I had with Marina and today, every email I have from her is something I treasure. I'm so happy I had the chance to tell her what her writing does for me and she had the chance to respond. If I hadn't, I'd regret it.

After my grandfather died, each member of my family went to the florist together and bought a bright bouquet to commemorate his birthday the following year. We walked into the dining room in our house in India and handed them to my grandmother one by one until the table was covered in color. We sat around that afternoon and told stories about his jokes, his songs, and his funny habits. I couldn't help but wonder why we never celebrated his birthday that way when he was around. 

After the reading on Friday my best friend and I decided this is what birthdays (and all days!) should be about -- truly, profoundly celebrating life. We're all quirky little packages bursting with passions and perspectives and eccentricities and inside jokes with ourselves, and we love that about the people we love. I just think we should take the time to celebrate that more while we have each other around. So I for one am going to eulogize my friends while they're alive.

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