Angela's sister, Doris, wrote to me on April 12 to tell me that Angela had entered hospice care the day before. Deeply alarmed, I asked if Angela would like me to come visit her while there was still time. Yes, I was told.
I hastily booked travel to Baltimore, where Angela had been living with her sister while receiving treatment at Johns Hopkins. I arrived early Wednesday evening to learn that Angela had passed away several hours earlier. Her decline those last three days had been shockingly swift.
I was able to sit with her body at the hospice, kiss her cheek a final time, and say my good-byes. Dismayed though I was to arrive "too late," I took comfort in Doris' assurance that while she was still lucid, Angela had been very happy about my impending visit.
Yesterday, I returned from a second trip to Baltimore, where Darren and I attended her memorial. Despite our sorrow, the event was a truly wonderful celebration of all that Angela was—a brilliant musician, a dedicated professor of German, and stunning intellect who took equal joy analyzing Nietzsche or the latest episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The follow essay is the eulogy I delivered Sunday at her memorial, where I was surrounded by friends from our Princeton days and by so many others whom Angela touched during her short and extraordinary life.
Should you be so inclined, a fund has been set up in Angela's name at The Creative Access, a student outreach program of the Johns Hopkins Peabody Institute of Music. Donations made in Angela Lin's name will support concerts for those in need of comfort throughout the Baltimore area.
Please make your check payable to:
The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University
In the memo please write “For Creative Access in memory of Angela Lin"
The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University
One East Mount Vernon Place
Baltimore, MD 21202
Water Chestnuts are Evil
in memory of Angela Hsiau-mei Lin, 10/29/1969 - 4/14/2010
I met Angela nearly twenty years ago at Princeton University, where we were both graduate students in German literature. Oddly, while I clearly remember the first time we met, I can’t recall the exact process by which we became friends. I can guess, however, a with high probability of accuracy, that dinner was involved.
Angela and I both came from families that valued their culinary traditions and shared a hearty appreciation of good food. Since I’m of Irish and Norwegian descent, my native cuisine included no tongue-numbing Szechuan peppercorns in ma-po tofu, or dark glossy sauces enlivened by the pungent bite of dark Chinese vinegar.
My family led a largely potato-based existence.
Growing up, I had always loved Chinese food—or at least what passed for Chinese food in small Minnesota meat-packing town—but it wasn’t until I met Angela that my senses were opened to the real intricacies of a cuisine that ranged far beyond gluey sweet and sour pork, fried rice, and egg rolls. It was Angela who taught me to judge a Chinese restaurant by the quality of its General Tso’s Chicken and whether or not the menu boasted sha-cha beef and garlic stir-fried green beans.
When we were still in Princeton together, Angela came to my apartment every Friday night for X-Files and take-out Chinese. On one such evening I learned of her deep and abiding hatred of the water chestnut, a vegetable she regarded with utmost revulsion.
“Water chestnuts are evil,” she proclaimed flatly.
I found that rather puzzling, so I asked for her reasoning.
"They're useless! They have no flavor, and all they add is empty crunch. Why not just throw styrofoam in there?"
I actually didn't mind water chestnuts, but I knew better than to question Angela on matters of taste. She knew what she liked, and what she didn’t like, she really didn’t like. (Nor should anyone else, come to think of it.)
Such vehemence notwithstanding, Angela was extremely well mannered and felt a bit sheepish about requesting a specially tailored entree each Friday night. Soon I was pressed into service to call in our orders to Karen’s Corner Chinese, on Princeton's Witherspoon Street.
After a time, the restaurant staff caught on to our little routine, and one Friday when I ordered hot and spicy beef with “no water chestnuts,” the friendly voice at the other end of the line said “Of course, and please tell Angela to enjoy her dinner.”
The two of us also spent many happy hours cooking together, and I once dazzled her with my ability to make steamed rice using nothing more high tech than a saucepan with a lid. "You mean you don’t have a rice cooker?” she asked incredulously. (It was as though I had admitted that I had no indoor plumbing.) I told her I didn't need a rice cooker. Maybe I was just more old-school Chinese than she was...?
It’s probably best that I don’t repeat her rather tart reply.
Oddly enough, to this day, I think of Angela every time I cut up broccoli. She once told me that she thought of broccoli as “boys”—the branching stems that reminded her of trousers, and “girls”—the skirt-like florets. At the time I told her that was just plain weird, but here it is nearly two decades later, and whenever I chop up a head of broccoli, I find myself thinking “girl, boy, boy, girl.”
That’s just one of the many permanent changes Angela caused in me. She also taught me that the proper color for Christmas decorations is not the jolly red of Santa suits, but instead the dignified claret tones one sees in paintings of Victorian Yuletides.
“That 'Santa red' is just wrong. Garish and wrong.”
And when I paused to consider, I found that she was right. She almost always was.
Today, my heart aches unbearably at her loss, and I struggle to comprehend how a woman of such striking beauty, personal grace, brilliance, wit and charm could be taken from us at the age of forty. I grieve for all she still wanted to do with her life, even as I marvel at the enormity of what she accomplished in a mere four decades.
I had seen Angela far too rarely in these last years, but in a way she was always with me--telling me to add more toasted sesame oil to the tofu I was preparing, or sharing my admiration of the decadent leather-clad, cigarette smoking vampires in the cheesy B-movie Underworld.
Now that she is gone, and I can't just pick up the phone to chat with her as I used to, I will have take comfort in my "Angela within." She'll always steer me the right direction.
Goodbye, my dear, dear Hsiau-mei.