Last Tuesday, The Crimson featured an article about a beloved member of the class of 2012 who lost her life in a car accident last week. The news was—and still is—shocking, to those who knew her as well as to those who didn’t. It is a tragedy. She was so young. She had so much life to live.
When my roommate asked me Sunday night, “Did you know…?” I didn’t respond immediately. Her question had said it all. And though she and I had only shared a working relationship and I had not spoken to her in months, her absence suddenly filled the room. I hesitated for a good five seconds before responding to the question that had been left dangling in the air. It is those pivotal moments between the knowledge of oncoming bad news, and the bad news, in which we wish we could suspend ourselves indefinitely. “Yes. Why?”
You don’t need to hear it from me that she was an absolutely incredible human being. Ask any one of her friends, fellow Lowell residents, professors; anyone she ever worked with or worked for—she touched the lives of so many people of all ages and communities on campus, which was also made apparent at the memorial service held in her memory last week. It was as if each person who spoke was thanking her for something she had done or said, or for a certain unique aspect of her personality. Harvard was undoubtedly a brighter place when she was here. I hope to God she knew that.
If we think realistically about our total daily interactions in college, a majority of them perhaps are not with our closest friends or family, but with acquaintances—people we know semi-well, whose company we might enjoy, but whom we might not otherwise seek out for more intense conversation. These are people on the outer strands of the social web we envision when we plop ourselves in the very center. Generally our contact with them is confined to a particular context like a dorm or a club. They are our periphery people. And though social interactions with our periphery people might comprise a large percentage of our total daily social interactions, we subconsciously tune them out when reflecting upon our day because our brain considers them less important. Think about all the times we hold a door open for that dorm mate we always see; find a comment that somebody made in section particularly intriguing; exchange hellos with a passing Annenberg friend from freshman year; ask a professor a question in lecture; small chat with somebody while we both wait for our bagels to toast. All the “Hey, how are you?”s, the email exchanges with leaders of other clubs, the short conversations with a peer leaving the same class. Our lives are filled with people on the periphery, and we don’t even realize the profound impact that these small but powerful connections with others have on our lives.
Our periphery people keep our web stable and grounded. They are our source of comfort in scary social situations. They make us feel like we are a part of something larger—like an integral piece of a community. They reassure us that we belong. They are often people we genuinely like, respect, even at times admire from afar or aspire to emulate—as was the case for me.
I am confident that she knew what she meant to her close friends. Not a doubt in my mind. But the reason I say that I hope she knows what she meant to this campus is because we don’t appreciate our periphery people enough. We don’t recognize, as individuals, how our lives are influenced on a daily basis by the small interactions with people we probably never give a second thought about. Even more rarely do we outwardly acknowledge our appreciation for one of our periphery people. That should change.
I wish we didn’t need tragedies to realize how lucky we are. It saddens me that it took the passing of an inspirational person in my periphery to realize how much those people really mean to me. From now on I promise to recognize consciously the ways in which my periphery people are impacting my life. Even more important, I will strive to make them aware of how much I respect and appreciate them. If everybody does the same, I know that the Harvard web will become that much more taut.
Brooke H. Kantor ’15 is a Near Eastern languages and civilizations concentrator in Dunster House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.
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