Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ave atque vale.

Last summer I took my first Greek course at UC Berkeley. For ten weeks we did nothing but study Greek, day and night; and we went from not even knowing the alphabet to reading Euripides (propped up at every turn by the Middle Liddell, but still). It was intoxicating. Our GSI led her little phalanx through the Swamp of Accents, over the tricky pass of Conditional Sentences, and across the burning plains of the Athematic Verb, chewing through a textbook the size of a telephone directory. The rank and file loved her, for she was everything a teacher/commander should be. I regretted, afterwards, that I hadn't gotten to know Corinne better - I did the typical introvert thing and hero-worshiped her from a distance, while my more confident classmates became fast friends with her. I did make one lasting friend from the workshop, though. I called her a few days ago to chat. She had to break the news to me: Corinne was dead. She had been hit by a car while she was riding her bicycle in Walnut Creek.

"Only 26 years old, she was obviously a woman of extraordinary brilliance, having graduated summa cum laude from Harvard at the age of 20, while simultaneously being awarded a Harvard master's degree. Having taught at Harvard, I can attest that in this age of grade inflation, Harvard still guards the honor of summa degrees rather closely. The honor is reserved for those who qualify as one of the finest minds of their generation, in essence."

- American Thinker.

Why did I have to learn all of this now? She studied with Fr. Foster when she was in her teens. She gave the Latin oration at the Commencement when she graduated from Harvard. She... It's not that knowing what a prodigy she was changes my feelings about her; it just makes her death that much harder to take, that's all.

On her blog she snarkily described herself as a "pissy feminist Ph.D. candidate and proud." She had a lot to be proud of, and she was making her way in a very male-dominated world, but I've never had a teacher who was more unpretentious. She had a way of explaining concepts as though she had just discovered them herself and was still luxuriating in that "Ohhhhh!" moment. I remember her defining participles as "adjectives with verb superpowers," pausing to think about it, and then saying, "or maybe... 'adjectives on crack'." She called Euboea 'Happy Cow Island' and baked us cookies and she had this cute way of saying "ohhhhhmega." Remember that "Fragment of a Greek Tragedy" I blogged about? I first read it on a handout she made for us. One day near the end of the course, she had us decipher the first page of the Greek translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (which begins Δούρσλειος καὶ ἠ γυνὴ ἐνῴκουν τῇ τετάρτῃ οἰκία τῇ τῆς τῶν μυρσίνων ὁδοῦ, in case you were curious). She could explain the most abstruse ideas simply.

At first glance she was an elfin sort of person, with her short dark hair and glinting eyes. She wore thick black glasses, as if to make herself look fiercer. She was perfectly unapologetic about her California accent, calling it "my dialect." This was encouraging to me, as I am an irredeemable valley girl. (I may use certain annoying particles when I speak <μὲν> , but at least I never employ them in my writing < /δὲ> .) But her slightness and chirpiness were deceptive - she was as athletic in her body as she was in her mind. She was always out cycling, and she was about to win her black belt in karate. (Once she told us about the previous day's ride, through the hills above Berkeley, and how she had wanted to see the "fire goats." With a kind of Chestertonian delight, she told us that she had seen the nimble little αἴγες standing in trees!)

If you click on her cartoon at the top of the post, it will take you to her page on the Berkeley site. I thought I might get to visit her this summer - but no. It's worse for my friend from the program, because she is a regular Berkeley student, and she continued to grow closer to Corinne after the summer workshop. Please pray for Corinne and for her family.

Arturo the Sarabite also learned from Corinne, and he has written a poem for her. He says what I wish I could say.

Music for Buses – V


Arturo Vásquez

For Corinne Crawford

I decided to take the bus
To where it ended-
Beyond familiar stops
And faces of those
Who tread wearily
On newspaper-covered floors.

I decided not to get off
At my stop
But continue to that place
Where I could see worry,
Tiny and shivering,
There below-
And I could guide the sun
With a sigh
And love all
The smallness of things.

I decided no longer to feed
The cares of the day,
But finally to get off
Near the last sign
That meant the flowing of sunset
And the end of the line,

Where waters lap on
Memory’s shore,
And once again you
Fold up the night
Like a note scrawled in affection,
And there, with courage
And gentleness,
Take flight.

I decided to take the bus
To where it ended-
To see you off
As you walked away-
Since you had brightness of heart
That belongs to so few,
May the heavens possess your soul
And the earth lie light on you.

Esto perpetua, Corinna.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was a friend of Corinne's at Berkeley. Thank you for writing about her. What you said was beautiful. I think of her every day.