Saturday, September 30, 2006

Mary McCarthy's Memorial Service

I'm packing up a bunch of my books, so that my shelves will look less overstuffed when I'm showing my condo.  I thought it best to pack up my law books, in particular.  Thought I might get a better price if the buyers don't figure I'm a lawyer.  ;)

And in the middle of my law books, I found a thin little booklet, from the 1990 Memorial Service for Mary Abigail McCarthy.

She was a Clinical Professor at my law school -- which means she led some of the law school's clinical programs, where students represented clients under her supervision.  I didn't take her class.  I never even knew the woman.  But when she died, at only 41, of pancreatic cancer, I attended the memorial service in our law school auditorium.

I don't remember many of the speakers, but one of them has stayed with me these sixteen years.  Martha Flanders (whose name I credit here, since I'm about to quote her) was a close friend of Mary's, and a fellow student when Mary was in law school.  She told the following story (conveniently reprinted in the booklet):

Mary was the epitome of a person who, to use the European expression, is comfortable within her own skin.  I remember an introductory class in federal income tax, our 'favorite' course.  Our earnest young Professor Rollins was lecturing on the method of determining federal tax.  He was droning on and on about gross income, exemptions, adjusted gross income, deductions, and applicable tax rates, and simultaneously illustrating his lecture on the blackboard with an elaborate and incomprehensible calculation.

All at once, a voice in the middle distance intoned, 'Halt!'

Professor Rollins turned around, and Mary said, 'You lost me.'

Professor Rollins turned back to the blackboard, leaned down, and started going through his calculations from the bottom.  'Now, where did I lose you?  Here?' and he pointed to the bottom-most figure.

'No,' came the reply.

'Here?' He pointed to the next figure.

'No,' came the reply.

'Here?' he asked, hopefully.

And each time the reply was 'No, further back.'

Finally, Mary took pity on the young professor and said dryly, 'Perhaps you should begin at the beginning.'

Mary was sure enough of her intelligence to know that if she wasn't learning, it wasn't being taught.

I kid you not -- I have remembered (and even recounted) this story for sixteen years.  I remember it whenever I feel clueless when someone is explaining something to me -- and I think about Mary McCarthy and scrape up the confidence to say, "You lost me."

It's a little unusual, I guess, to be guided in life by a remembrance of someone I never knew.  Then again, maybe that's just a teensy bit of what a memorial service is supposed to do.


helmswondermom said...

That was a wonderful story.  I can remember being in that type of situation and not being able to say "You lost me."  And you're right; that is what a memorial service is supposed to be.  And I think it's neat that you're able to keep that memory of her alive, even if it was someone you never really knew.

memes121 said...

Nice story friend! Tammy