Sunday, September 14, 2014

May Her Memory be a Blessing, Part II

To follow up on my previous, I went to Mrs. Maschler's memorial service this morning. I heard from her former colleagues and students and her daughters. And everyone speaking worked together to paint a picture of her. She was a woman who was incredibly blunt, and also incredibly interested in everyone she talked to. When you talked to her, she really listened. And when she told you that you were wrong and told you why (quite forcefully!) she did so not because she delighted in putting you in your place, but because she really took what you had to say seriously. She took -you- seriously. And she would hold up your words to the same (merciless) scrutiny that she applied to Sts Augustine and Paul or Kant. You were in the same boat as they were. You were not just some kid, you and your words mattered to her.

And because you mattered to her, your life mattered to her, and she would worry over it. She always thought I was not living up to my intellectual potential, working the job I did. But she said that because she really did care about me. And so it was, apparently, with everyone she knew.

I value kindness a lot. Which might be funny or hypocritical coming from me, I don't know. And I generally take little stock in people that are blunt or abrupt because they are 'being honest'. But from her, telling you that you were -wrong- sir, that was a kindness. It was a mark of respect. I will never forget that.

May her memory be blessed.

And if I may be abstract, I think my experience with Chaininah is instructive.  All my life I was told I was smart and special and was awarded parts on the back for doing as well as could be expected for someone of my years.  Chaininah was a rare person who did not hold me to some kind of weighted 'pretty smart for a punk kid' standard, but held me to the same standard that she held the great minds of history.  And perhaps that's what we need more of in our teachers and our education -- an attempt to take students seriously, to ask them to really put their minds out there and hold themselves up to no less standard than finding the truth.

May Her Memory be a Blessing

A friend of mine (St John's tutor from way back whom I used to drive around town) died in August. I was never that close to her, and her death makes me sad in that general 'I will miss you' kind of way that I feel when non-close friends or non-immediate relatives die. Since my parents are still alive and all my closest friends are still with us, this is all I've known of death - missing people.
Mostly I suppose I wanted to share a bit about her. Chaninah Maschler was born in the Berlin in 1931 but grew up in the Netherlands. She was Jewish. The first thing I heard her say about the war was 'I didn't go outside much', then she had been hiding with a gentile family in Utrecht, that her brother had run messages for the resistance, and that she'd survived the hunger winter of 1944-1945.  I later learned that her Mother had survived Bergen-Belsen, and her brother had not.

She was a philosopher to the bone. Sharp like Wittgenstein or Pascal, not jovial like Hume. She was a Pierce scholar (and general fan of pragmatism) who studied at Princeton and had ended up at St John's because she was friends with a faculty member there, I think it was Eva Brann. Knew Rorty a bit, I am not sure how well. That's to say she had a mind like a trap, and I could only just keep up.
She married an artist and art dealer who (as far as I can tell) had never gone past high school, and as far as I can tell she was happy with him until he died a couple of years before I met her. She had two twin daughters.

I last saw her two months before she died, trying and failing to solve printer problems for her. My biggest regret is that I saw her less than I ought to have when she had cancer. My last memory of her was that she was much the same as ever, but weaker and more tired. I am glad I have that.