Saturday, I went to a memorial service. It was for a recently departed professor, a woman I didn’t know. My friend had been her advisee, and I went with him as a sort of external support system.
We live in circles of small communities. They are made up of our families, our high schools, our churches or temples, our childhood or college friends. For most of us, our dominant community is now Yale and the smaller communities we find here. At Yale, we hear of many people before we meet them. Names take on characteristics or stories before they are illuminated by physical appearance. It’s a strange way to get to know someone — secondhand first.
I had the honor of getting to know María Rosa Menocal through her memorial service. My understanding of her was shaped by the stories her colleagues told, by the music selected for her service and by the response of her friends and family to her death. I have a secondhand understanding of her as a person. Yet the image I’ve constructed is multifaceted, colorful, vivid. I wish I had been lucky enough to know professor Menocal; I left the service echoing the loss I heard throughout.
We can never know another person, my philosophy professor once said, because we can never know what that person is thinking. And that’s what makes us human, I think — our actions hint at our internal self, yet can only reveal our externalities.
I remember being horrified by my professor’s comment — my first misguided freshman existential crisis. “Do I know anyone?” I neurotically thought. Are all my relationships built from hollow reflections of the other?
We are encased by our bodies. And when our soul departs, we leave behind a shell of what once was. Thus, we exist both internally and externally. Our internal existence is what we keep for ourselves, and what we hope to reflect through the external. Our external existence is made up of ripples that permeate others. We communicate ourselves through translation, from internal to external, from external to others. Our own understanding of our various communities is gleaned from those translations.
This is how we connect, through translations of communication. We do not always act and speak under the notion that those actions and words communicate our souls. But that is what we leave behind, and what is reborn through others’ secondhand stories and interpretations.
Multiple speakers at professor Menocal’s memorial service spoke of her love of words. From what I understood, she communicated herself with vivacious bravery, punctuated by a sharp wit and humor. I hope to communicate myself as gracefully as she did. The words of those who spoke at her memorial service were clear; the translations appeared flawless.
My professor was right. We can never know exactly what another person is thinking. Our knowledge of the souls of others must be gleaned from translations. And thus, we evolve into a mosaic consisting of our selves, but constructed by others. We become multifaceted, and through memories, immortal. When our external selves depart, we continue to commune with others through the internal.
Beauty is the clarity of self, echoed in another’s thoughts.
Caroline Lester is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .