Thursday, March 22, 2007

in memoriam

Tanya Reinhart died suddenly last week. If you are interested, you can read more about her political activism and her linguistics here and here. I just want to take a moment, to stand still and remind myself of what Tanya meant to me.

We first met almost exactly 10 years ago, in the summer of 1997, when I was in the process writing my MA thesis and she had kindly agreed to be one of the supervisors. I used to visit her in her Amsterdam appartment, on the Singel, and we argued back and forth about some of the finer points of my thesis. After I had begun my PhD, I took one of her classes, together with Ineke, and we used to occasionally have lunch with her in a little coffeehouse on an Utrecht canal. In 2003, we met again when she accepted to be on the committee for my defense. She came to my graduation party and we spoke for a while, agreeing to meet as soon as I had given birth (I defended my PhD with a belly sticking out all the way to the Vatican :)). That didn't materialize, as I was sucked into baby world, and then detached myself from linguistics altogether. Although we exchanged a couple of e-mails over the last few years, I never saw her again.

Every time we met, she made me feel warm and welcome. She made me feel seen, heard and recognized. She also made me feel, always, that I could do better still.

She was one of the most amazing people I have ever met, and I have been figuring out these past few days what it is exactly that I find so inspiring about her. It is the fact that she managed to balance the brain and the heart, to apply her razor-sharp mind to that which her heart knew was true. The fact that she exuded warmth and lack of compromise, all in the same breath. The fact that she had found and was walking with confidence what always seemed to me to be such an elusive hair-fine line. The fact that living as she did from the heart, she retained innocence and infinite joy while dealing daily with the horrors we inflict on one another. The fact of her amazing power of focus.

Tanya is no longer here. I cannot e-mail her, I cannot meet with her. But I know what her legacy to me is. I know that she showed me the way to that thin line which, once you walk it, turns into a wide tree-shaded alley. The path of heart and mind. The path of warmth and steadfastness. The path of truth and kindness. The path of no compromise.

Thank you, Tanya.

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