One of the best infrequently recurring Saturday Night Live sketches stars Bill Hader as the sardonic host of a game show called “What’s That Name?” As he explains, “The rules are simple, we show you a person, and you tell us their name.” Here’s the latest iteration from earlier this year:
The script follows the original almost exactly: Both contestants, successful businesspeople, are asked to name a slightly obscure celebrity or pop culture icon from a photo, which they manage to do for a meager reward. Then, with comical amounts of money on the line, they’re asked to name people they have met and interacted with in real life many times, who walk on set to greet them. Inevitably, they fail miserably, inducing a mix of grimacing, schadenfreude, and relief that we aren’t playing that game.
“But Lil Xan you know,” the wife of a colleague of one of the contestants quips as she walks off-stage, a line so biting it’s precisely replicated from the original. After all, our conscience tells us that we know both far more than we should about celebrities and far less than we should about people we interact with all the time.
America is facing a loneliness epidemic. So many of us wish that we had more community in our lives, but don’t know how to organically build it. We feel the pain of losing community as we inevitably leave home or graduate college, wondering, “Will I ever find a community like this again?”
So we check out meetups, attend public talks or sporting events, and go to our workplace’s happy hours. Yet this motley of activities can’t really replace that warm dorm community of college or loving home environment of our memories. What’s different, and can we ever get it back?
This isn’t everyone’s experience, of course. But whether it resonates with you or not, I’d like to offer something of an answer, at least to the first of those questions. And to the second, I hope that by understanding the different shapes that community forms in our lives, we can identify what we might be missing and where we need to look next.
Grace and I recently spent our vacation in Singapore over her Spring Break. From the moment that Grace’s parents picked us up at the airport to when they brought us back a week later, our trip was filled with what I’ve now come to expect from Singapore: gatherings with friends and family, often over good and cheap food, various cheap public transit options to get between them, and the continual pursuit of air conditioning to avoid the year-round heat and humidity.
While the flights were super long and the trip felt short, we really appreciated being able to spend that time with friends and family. Even though we didn’t get to see everyone we wanted to see, it was still very refreshing to catch up and have fun together with those that we could.
What does it take to live a meaningful life? When everything is said and done, what will truly have mattered? Is it the accomplishments we achieved, the recognition we received, the legacy we left behind? Or is there something inherently meaningful in the lives we lead, the experiences we cherish, the people we love?
When I first heard about the concept of a Career Fair in my freshman year at Caltech, I half-joked to my friends, “I don’t want a career!” I came to college to learn math and science, and was quite honestly disgusted with classmates who would choose their course loads, student groups, or volunteer opportunities for the sole purpose of looking good on a resume.
This didn’t mean that I resisted growing up or planning ahead. I suspected I would want to go to graduate school, so I spent my first two summers doing research in my two favorite fields: math and chemistry. After all, this looked good on a grad school application for precisely the right reason: Experience doing research would prove to both myself and graduate admissions committees that I would thrive there.
During the rest of the year, I tried to learn all the things. I took the more difficult options for physics and biology requirements in addition to numerous advanced math and chemistry classes as a freshman and sophomore. I even sat in on the first few weeks of the main major-specific classes for astronomy and biology my sophomore year before the workload of organic chemistry lab caught up to me.