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Life is short, love one another

April 12, 2024

This piece represents the opinion of the author .

I knew K. I sat next to her in class and sparred with her about the political messaging of Christianity. When I was bored during lectures, I would space out and try to figure out what the hell that cat game was that she always played on her iPad. But I didn’t really know her. I never once asked to grab a meal, I never once thought about where she was from and I certainly didn’t know what she was going through.

It was this disconnect that gnawed at me the most after her death. Here was this person who I spent quite a bit of time around, but the impact of her death seemed to ring hollow for me. That first night after hearing the news, I couldn’t fall asleep until 6 a.m., yet I felt no grief. I felt shocked and dismayed and was affected by the grief my friends and classmates showed, yet I could muster up none for myself.

I would like to be someone that grieves for my classmates. Who, even if he doesn’t know them well, feels the good that they embodied and mourns when his community loses them. I’d like my college community to be one that does the same. I’ve been thinking a lot about what was missing so that I didn’t. Fittingly, it’s one of K’s favorite moral philosophers that guides me to an answer.

As Aristotle writes in “Nicomachean Ethics,” “complete friendship is the friendship of those who are good and alike in point of virtue.” They recognize what they hold to be the good in one another, so they “wish for the good things for their friends”—they care. You might wonder, then, why I didn’t grieve for the loss of her fierce intellect, her voracious appetite for debate, her love for political theory or her unwavering fixation with ethics. These were the ways I knew her, and they were qualities that I admired to Mount Olympus and back. However, I think it would be naïve to say that these are virtues that could bring me to love someone as a true friend, and that could bring me to my knees when they are lost.

Aristotle also writes in his book “Politics” that “every community is constituted for the sake of some good.” I started this column in search of ideals that would unite a Bowdoin community that, to me, seemed to increasingly lack any. Without any such shared ideals, I fear that students lack the fuel to feel genuine camaraderie with fellow community members who they are not similar to or acquainted with already. They won’t have any reason to grieve when a stranger who sits next to them in class dies. In line with Aristotle, I’ve been stuck thinking about what shared virtues might have brought me to truly grieve the loss of K. Could love for the common good have done it? Passion for learning? School pride? I’ve now come to realize that these are certainly values whose collective pursuit could bring a community closer, but there was another obvious one that I had taken for granted right before my eyes.

Frankly put, in the restless hubbub of an overachieving college student, I had forgotten just how much it means to simply be alive.

It was only on the day of her memorial, when I heard the simplest of stories from her friends and loved ones, that I grieved for the first time. A night spent making ramen and watching old movies, a final video project composed of a cast of cats with voiceovers, a walk to the river lamenting paper grades with a friend. These are the fragments that make a life, make a person and make someone worth caring for. The qualities I admired in K were added ornaments and certainly would have made me care for her more, but what I never opened my heart to was her simple humanity.

Here we all are together, growing up, on this oddly decadent plot of land in Bumblebee, Maine. We dine next to each other, we pass each other on the quad as we call our families back home, and at least one of you now sleeps on my old mattress.

The night after K died, our seminar on Alexis de Tocqueville dined together in the President’s dining room of Thorne. There’s one moment from that dinner that I think I’m going to remember for a long time. Professor Jean Yarbrough was telling us where she was and what she was doing when she heard the news. As it turned out, she was at an Easter brunch in Massachusetts. All of a sudden she stopped and got this misty look in her eyes. Then, voice trembling, she told us what her pastor had said to the congregation just a couple hours earlier that morning. As she surveyed our faces and clung onto each of them as if they might wisp away at a gust of the wind, she choked out the following line.

“Life is short, love one another.”

With love,

Aidan Sheeran-Hahnel


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