The Importance of Family


We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.

It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.

Yale is full of tiny circles we pull around ourselves. A cappella groups, sports teams, houses, societies, clubs. These tiny groups that make us feel loved and safe and part of something even on our loneliest nights when we stumble home to our computers — partner-less, tired, awake. We won’t have those next year. We won’t live on the same block as all our friends. We won’t have a bunch of group-texts. This scares me. More than finding the right job or city or spouse — I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness. This feeling I feel right now.

You may remember that passage by Marina Keegan, the beautiful girl in the yellow coat who tragically died just after graduating from Yale last spring. Her gifted writing struck a cord with the world, with many of her essays going viral in the days following her accident. She  had an eloquence beyond her years and it was easy to see why her words resonated with people. They resonated with me, too, but for a different reason: Marina was my cousin.

Unfortunately, like many of my other cousins after the first generation, she was a cousin I didn’t know. We were separated by more than a decade, a handful of states, and I couldn’t have picked her out from a crowd. But, we shared great grandparents and loved ones and it shouldn’t have been that way. For the world, Marina’s untimely death served as an inspiration to live life to the fullest. For me, it served as a wake up call to get to know my family, and discover the amazing people they are, before it might be too late.

I spent the weekend celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of a very special cousin of mine. One who, for most of his life, I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing. I can’t believe how long I went without knowing his infectious laughter and bright mind, or his kindness and sweetness and love. Most of all, I can’t believe I never knew about his generosity.

Unlike my thirteen year old self, who selfishly counted my loot and lined up my Bat Mitzvah gifts, Luke donated all of his Bar Mitzvah money to Scary Mommy Nation. Instead of spending the gift money on a flat screen TV or new computer system or a trip somewhere far away, Luke opted to donate the money to help kids and moms in need. He was the inspiration for The Birthday Project and is the reason kids who otherwise would have nothing to open on their own special days, will have a gift to dive into.

At 13, Luke is more of a man than most men I know, and the perfect role model for my sons.

As I watched Luke become a Bar Mitzvah, surrounded by our shared family–first cousins, second cousins, aunts, uncles–I was reminded about the importance of family.  I was reminded of my cousin Marina Keegan, whose own kindness and generosity I didn’t have the chance to know, and I am thankful for this chance to celebrate Luke becoming the wonderful and caring person he is growing into.

Thank you, Luke, for being… you.

I am so fortunate to call you family.



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  1. 2

    CanadianMama says

    This is so amazing and really fills my heart and mind with hope and optimism. Sometimes after a long day, reading and watching the news, I can lose sight of what’s really important, I can lose sight of the amazing people that are in this world, that are in this community. Thank you Jill and Luke for reminding me what really matters, and for reminding me that people really are genuinely good. It’s a lesson I hope I never forget.

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  2. 4

    unforgiven says

    Thank you so so much Luke. You will change so many lives and touch many hearts with your compassion and selflessness. This is such a generous gift and it’s so wonderful of you to contribute to such a great cause.

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  3. 6

    Debbie says

    Thank you also to Luke for his gift and Jill for sharing.

    Family is very important and we can get so busy with our own day that we forget the love that surrounds us.

    When i talk to my family or see them I always remember to hug them or tell them that I love them. Both if they are standing in front of me.

    You never know in life what the next second or minute is going to hold for anyone.

    There is so much time now days that people are in a hurry, so they just text someone rather than call them and say Hi. For myself I don’t texts. My children ask me why, I tell them if you have something to say, I would love to hear your voice. And then i ask them why they want to text. The answer is, “I have something to say but don’t want to talk.”

    Communication build relationships and bonds people together. That is what life is about. Helping other, loving other and always being there for other.

    Luke this is what you have done with your donation. You are being there for others and bless you for it.
    Thanks again Jill for sharing your story. And be forever grateful for your cousin, because she did teach you a wonderful lesson in her short life. She is most likely looking down on you and smiling.

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