Wednesday, February 15, 2012

With My Sincerest Admiration

It's unfortunate there aren't as many English words for love as there are kinds of love--I'm sure I'm not the only person who's frustrated by the fact she has to use the same word to describe her feelings for her parents, her girlfriend, her cat, Les Miserables, and eggplant parmesan (not to mention my friends, Divinity, and good LORD these vegan cupcakes you used to be able to get at GreenStar co-op in Ithaca).

So, for the purposes of this post, I'm jettisoning romantic love and instead focusing on people I admire.
Well, first and foremost I would have to put my mother--she is the one exception to the rule I'm setting for myself that these can't be people I know personally, because then it would be impossible to keep the list to a manageable size and if I left someone off (unintentionally, it must be said) I would feel terrible. I've also decided not to go with the 'obvious' answers: in fact, I should probably just get those out of the way now. Martin Luther King Jr, Jesus, the Dalai Lama, Sojourner Truth, Leonardo DaVinci, Toni  Morrison, Betty Friedan. And, hell, it's still hard to keep it to a manageable size, so let's just say...five.
So. In no particular order:
1. My mother. Wise, witty, kind, compassionate, blunt. I am my mother's daughter. I love her more than words can say. Especially around Mother's Day it's common to hear people spouting off about how their mothers are the best in the world. This is empirically false, as my mom is the best in the world, and thus every other mother, while of course superlative in her own way, is inferior to her. Just getting that out of the way (and just kidding...kind of. Please don't send hate mail).
2. Albert Schweitzer. I read a book about him (auf Deutsch) when I was in high school and was blown away. Philosopher? Check. Kick-ass theologian? Yup. Physician? That too. Anti-racism and anti-colonialism advocate at the fin-de-freaking-siecle? Sure enough. Premier organist and music theorist? You know it. Established a medical mission in Gabon, wrote books on subjects as diverse as philosophy, theology, medicine, music theory, and civil rights, and was a vegetarian. Everyone thinks William Carlos Williams was such a Renaissance man because he wrote poetry as well as practicing medicine; Schweitzer would have pwned him in a second. He wrote a book called "The Psychiatric Study of Jesus." It gets no more rad than that.
3. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Abolitionist, feminist, and scholar, who in the 1890s wrote 'The Woman's Bible,' the first widely known piece of feminist criticism of the Judeo-Christian scriptures. She waded into territory that other early feminists and suffragists thought was too controversial. Also, interestingly, she is recognized as a saint by the Episcopal Church. While I was a student at Cornell I got to visit her old house in Seneca Falls, NY--it was a wonderful day.
4. Marie Sklodowska-Curie: First person (not woman, PERSON) to be honored with two Nobel prizes: one in Physics, which she shared with her husband, and one in Chemistry, which was hers alone. She was the first to use the now-ubiquitous term 'radioactivity.' One hundred years later she's still the only person to have received prizes in two scientific disciplines: bam. At the beginning of the twentieth century she used both her maiden and married names, and combined an active scientific career with motherhood. Unfortunately, she died of aplastic anemia brought on by her extensive exposure to high levels of radiation. Sad.
5. Nikola Tesla: Probably one of the greatest engineers, physicists, and inventors of awesome stuff, ever. He pioneered wireless communication (by radio, not Bluetooth), developed a system--bought out and destroyed by his contemporaries--by which electricity could be distributed wirelessly over miles (stop and consider the implications of that for a moment), calculated the Earth's resonant frequency and developed the Alternating Current power system we use today (beating out Thomas Edison, who was by most accounts a total jerkface). He also accomplished all this despite--or perhaps, in part, because of--a severe case of what sounds like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, including an obsession with the number three, among other psychiatric anomalies. He was also an animal  lover, who ascribed his early fascination with electricity to receiving a static shock from his beloved cat as a child. As an adult, he would rescue injured pigeons (at this point he was living in lower Manhattan, so there were pigeons aplenty) and nurse them back to health. He was also close pals with Missouri legend Mark Twain. Pretty fantastic.

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