You may remember that I was fortunate enough to attend an 80th birthday celebration for my friend and adviser Jerzy Linderski.
Here is the toast I made in his honor, followed by the actio gratiarum that he offered our entire group, who included his wife, colleagues, and many students.
Abbot to Linderski:
One of my favorite non-academic essays is by a man named Richard Watson. A philosopher. It’s titled “How to Die,” and it came out about 30 years ago in The Georgia Review. That’s a morbid and off-putting title, you’re thinking, but I assure you that there’s nothing off-putting about the essay itself. It’s short, lovely, and thought-provoking. In it, Watson suggests that we distinguish between the content and the form of our lives. And his thesis, with which some of you may disagree, is that the content of our lives is comparatively unimportant, if it matters at all.
Now, obviously, the content of my life is important to me. It’s of essential importance. But probably the rest of you don’t care much whether I spend my time being a parent to my children, or teaching Latin, or planting trees. Your attitude would probably be, “Whatever makes you happy, Jim.” That’s what Watson is getting at.
The form of our lives, though — now that’s important. How we parent or teach or plant. The form is significant not just to me, but potentially to many other people as well.
I thought of this essay when I read for the first time recently my friend Hans-Friedrich Mueller’s wonderful reminiscence of Jerzy in the festschrift that came out a decade ago. He describes so well that memorable Livy seminar, taught by Jerzy, that we both took in our first semester at Carolina. Through Hans’s wonderful prose and keen observations, I relived that experience.
Now, I assure you that I know who Livy is. I learned a lot in that course about Roman history and historiography, about our discipline of classics, about what it means to be a scholar and teacher in the humanities.
But all that pales in importance compared to what I observed of Jerzy in that class, and later on so many occasions in his office and during some wonderful lunches at The Carolina Coffee Shop. The form of your life. The how of it. The kind of person you chose to be at some point in your life and have been ever since.
That experience has had a formative influence on my own life. Not just as a teacher and scholar of classics. But as a person. So I am thrilled to be here tonight to say thank you. And naturally to wish you a very happy 80th birthday!
Linderski to his guests:
Amicissimi mei! Vita longa, oratio brevis. Annos ante triginta quinque ex pluviis Oregonensium commigravi in Carolinam caeruleam. Ibi omnia inveni quae homines studiis dediti ad vitam beatam utilia necessariaque existiment.
Universitatem studiorum praeclaram; collegas optimos, humanitate eximia praeditos, doctrina praestantes, in primis magistrum olim meum, Broughtonem dico; bibliothecam opulentem qua ad animi delectationem pastus eram et pascor.
Inveni etiam, quod praecipue mihi cordi fuit, est, erit, sociam vitae laborisque mei. O carissima, Tu scriptiuncula mea omnia adsidue legisti, consilia optima sagax dedisti et auxilio semper fuisti!
Quid, quid de discipulis dicam? Fuerunt multi, omni gradu atque aetate, diligentes, alacres, ingenio acuto, amatores philologiae et rerum gestarum, a quibus ego ipse multa didici. Quos quasque cum nunc florentes video ingenti gaudio sum elatus!
Sed tempus fugit, Kairos currit; testis sum! Ita, ut finem faciam, epulo festivo vestrisque votis ornatus atque sustentatus, vobis omnibus summas gratias ago et deos, si qui sint, rogo obsecroque, ut vobis omnia fausta, felicia fortunataque eveniant!