Letter from Berkeley

When Steve asked for pictures of Lauren for the presentation today, I was worried that I wouldn ‘t be able to find any that were quite suitable: most of them were taken before photography went digital and most of my pictures looked as if they were taken underwater, through someone’s hair. I was worried I wouldn ‘t find any proper pictures of Lauren, but once I started, I had to laugh: she didn’t really look “composed ” in any of them. She was usually laughing uproariously so that all you could see was a neck and her tonsils; or draped, giggling over several friends at once; or winking at the camera in her famous movie star pose. She was just so gorgeous that she never had to worry about how she looked; that, and she was always having such a fantastic time that I don’t even think she really cared. And then there were the grimy pictures of us forest firefighting, where she looks as if I’d just pulled her out of a chimney; and the pictures of us painting my grandmother’s house, where we’re bothcovered in paint after unwittingly dumping 5 gallons of yellow paint in the middle of the street (which was really totally my fault). And the list goes on and on. They are reallybeautiful pictures, and they reveal exactly who she was to me: a free-spirited, light-hearted, goofy-but-brilliant knockout.

When I look back at my friendship with Lauren, it’s hard for me to describe how very much she impacted my life, and how much she really changed and inspired me. I don’t think she really meant to, she was just wonderfully spontaneous and reveled in whims and enjoying the moment. I was much more focused, on a very straight and narrow road; her road, I think, meandered somewhat, and held unexpected surprises around bends. She very frequently tempted me with her caprices and every time I gave in, BAM! I was left wondering what had hit me; this very last time I found myself living in a country that I couldn’t have picked out on a map before I got on the plane. But this experience changed my life profoundly and quite marvelously, as I learned what living my life deliberately really meant.

You know, I don’t even really remember when we met. I certainly remember my first impressions of her, though. We were both half-hearted members of a sorority at the U of 0, and I saw her as glamorous, popular, and beautiful, constantly on the move and always laughing, always laughing. She really sparkled. I was a bit more introverted and admired her ability to charm her way through the world. I always described her as my “beautiful and cosmopolitan ” girlfriend (or my beautiful girlfriend who liked to drink cosmopolitans, depending on the company). She had that dangerous combination of wit, intellect, and charm that left everyone with a bit of a crush on her.

Our friendship developed over frequent heart-to-hearts-most likely about some life-changing party or utterly evil sorority sister-after which we became bosom friends. We’d sit up late nights and talk about love and travel, wine and poetry: all the truly important things in life, in which she’d had lots of experience and I had very little. She’d tell me of her travels in London or Athens or Prague, and I’d listen and dream of walking those streets and living a life parallel to my own, somewhere more exotic than Oregon. Because of Lauren, I eventuallydid live in Europe, in a city she picked for me and attended a teaching program she’d found. That was one of her inherent gifts: making the valuable and beautiful experiences in life accessible to the rest of us.

She also taught us how not to take ourselves so seriously, and how to enjoy what we’d been given, and how to always remain optimistic; even in the face of cancer. Occasionally, she’d even try to teach us about European History, her biggest passion. She took my fleeting interest in the French Revolution as an indication of a greater allegiance to “History,” with a capital H, and would try to regale me with stories of 15 th century courtroom documents from obscure French provinces. She could talk about that stuff for hours. She particularly loved to talk about her own family’s history, about the lives of her Nana and Yia Yia and boundless other relatives. Often times, I felt I knew the history of her family much better than the history of my own, as we flipped through old sepia-toned pictures in her family albums of women in bustles and men looking stern. She was extremely proud of her family and where she came from, and she regularly tested me on the authentic pronunciation of her last name, “Banyachkayee” (which I still can’t really say correctly). Listening to her talk about her heritage was like being in a great history class and at the theater, all at once. She was a natural storyteller and was well on her way to making a fabulous college professor, the ones who have packed office hours every week and invite you to their houses for dinner and odd holidays.

Despite her romantic sensibilities regarding Medieval History, she was quite the cynic on the romance and Hollywood love. But although she was a bit of a skeptic on “Love” with a capital L, I think she knew how to love better than almost anyone I’ve ever met: she never held a grudge; she always greeted me with a smile and a kiss; and she never failed to tell me how much she loved me. And I think all of you here are a testament to how much she loved the world, and how much the world really loved her. And when I feel like screaming at the sky “You took her from us,” I feel like the answer I get back is, “No, I gave her to you. ” And she was a gift, an unexpected treasure that deepened and brightened my life. I am very grateful for all that she gave me, and I’ll miss her dearly.