What if I Never Eat Cheese Again!?

Okay. If you haven’t read The Opposite of Loneliness yet, I suggest that you leave your computer and go do that. (Or just read this post to catch up really quickly.) Seriously, guys. This isn’t the first time that I’ve mentioned this book, so you should probably just go read it now…

But if you truly have not gotten around to reading it, The Opposite of Loneliness is essentially a collection of stories, poems, and nonfiction essays by an incredibly talented young lady named Marina Keegan. Sadly, Keegan died in a car crash only a few days after her college graduation, making her words all that more poignant, if they weren’t already. The young lady had a worldliness about her that is hard to pinpoint but that is so evident in her words.

Keegan was an absolute shooting star of a writer: far, far too talented, she burned brightly and quickly. I would love to say that we have that in common, but I could never live up to the accolades that she had achieved in her short time here on Earth.

But there is one thing that I do share with her: we both have a food allergy. (Catch up on that discovery by clicking here.) She had Celiac’s disease, which meant that she couldn’t digest gluten. I have lactose intolerance plus a soy allergy, which basically means I can’t eat anything at all.

I was actually in the midst of diagnosing myself with the latter allergy when I was reading Keegan’s book. In her one essay, she talks about being unable to eat gluten, and explains that she already has a plan for her final meal. On her death bed, she will eat bread, and pasta, and pizza to her heart’s delight after being denied them for so long. She will gorge herself and then hopefully fall back onto the pillow at a ripe age and die peacefully.

In a very stark moment of realization, we all know that this event will never come to pass.

But I have to wonder: Is anyone really so lucky that they can set themselves up to go with all of the ceremony and dessert platters they want? In fact, I think death row inmates are quite blessed in that sense, in that they are given a proper, final meal, when most of us don’t know when ours will be. We’ll never know if the breakfast, lunch, or dinner we just ate will be our last.

So, what should we do? Especially those of us with food allergies. What if I never eat salty, melty, yummy cheese again?

Well, I can’t lie to you. Eating food that irritates my allergy hurts. It is absolutely unpleasant, and it affects my quality of life. I would obviously not choose to eat cheese or soy everyday, due to the repercussions.

But then again, Marina Keegan has shed some light on the matter: everything in moderation and probably not all at once. I think as long as your throat doesn’t swell up and you don’t need to be impaled with an epi pen, you should partake in the foods that make you happy once in awhile. Occasionally, your own happiness does trump your unruly stomach.

I mean, if I had to plan a grand feast for the end of my life, I would certainly invite macaroni and cheese, pesto, cheesesteaks, and bagels and cream cheese to the table. But I also need to remember to plan a little feast for now, just in case I don’t get the opportunity in the future.

The point is, if there is anything that Marina Keegan can teach us, it’s that it is absolutely useless to wait for what you really want out of life. Basically, eat the pizza while there is still time. (And if someone is able to make that into a bumper sticker, I will absolutely buy 10 of them on the spot.)

The Opposite of Loneliness

I’d like to think that I provide pretty good book recommendations, when pressed. (You know. When I DON’T go blank and forget every book I’ve ever read and the only thing that sticks out is some book that I loathed, so I blurt out, Izzy, Willy Nilly? Have you ever read that? Try it. Then they associate me with some book I actually hated.)

So, here is a book recommendation that I am poised to give. One that you should probably go out and get tomorrow. One that you should probably pay the utmost attention to.

Actually, to call this particular collection of words a “book” is to make it base. It’s a life’s work. I could probably never do it justice and overrate it at the same time.

It’s called The Opposite of Loneliness. And before I tell you about the story, I need to tell you this “story.”

Marina Keegan was a student at Yale. She was a writer in the broadest sense: a poet, a playwright, even dabbling in nonfiction. She won awards for her work and saw some of it published in The New Yorker and The New York Times. Upon her graduation, she addressed her classmates in an essay, entitled “The Opposite of Loneliness” that became an instant success. She died in a car accident five days later. Not even a week after she had worn a cap and gown, an entire lifetime of success ahead of her, she was gone.

And so, her parents picked up the pieces. They took a hard look at her body of work. They put it together between a binding, and they sold it so that others could come to know their daughter intimately. Despite the flaws that she probably would have revised and edited out of her work, her parents sent Marina’s final message out into the world. I am so glad that they did.

Because they could have been selfish. They could have decided that it was too large of an undertaking to assess what to put in a final book about Marina. No one could have blamed them if they had shied away and withdrawn into their grief.

But they didn’t. And really, they couldn’t have gone wrong with anything they picked. Yes, every page “throbs with what could have been” as one critic said, but Marina will always be recognized for her talent, whether she is here or not. Although she could have been so much more, her impact is great and awesome in the traditional sense of both words.

The book is a mix of her poetry, her fiction, and her nonfiction. But really, it is made of flesh, blood, and bone. Marina’s symbolism is both painfully obvious and overwhelmingly succinct. When you read her words, you feel an undeniable connection to her, but also the human race. She seems to embody what humans could be, if we free ourselves from our inhibitions. She was a better version of us all.

Everything about this book is difficult, mind you. It is hard to see how much talent Marina had. It is hard to hear her talk about her own death, when she thinks it will be years away, like we all do. It is hard to hear her talk about all the things that scared her, excited her, angered her. (I mean, it is especially hard because I am sitting here trying to find matching socks when we have shooting stars like Marina in the world.)

But we owe her that at least. We owe her an audience.

So, pick up Marina Keegan’s book The Opposite of Loneliness. Cry through it like I did. Be haunted by it. Loathe it a little. Love it a lot. But when someone asks you for a good book recommendation, pass it on. Give Marina what we all need in this life and the next: someone to listen.