Memorials and A Marathon
I have cause to do some remembering, and I'd like to tell you a bit about my Freshman year of college, and a friend I made then. There's something magically sticky about the early weeks of a semester Freshman year, when a passing comment like"I want to find a donkey to decorate my room with," put someone in the running to be my best buddy. Said donkey-searcher, Ben, helped me find many wonderful people, including the woman I would like to tell you about.
One day early in the semester I was waiting in a hallway for a friend to finish her physics lab. I was tickled pink by vector notation--i-hat
, and k-hat
--and I started folding paper hats. On one I drew an eye, on another a blue-jay, and on the third, "Que?" in Spanish. Most of my passing classmates appropriately ignored me, but a friend of Ben's, Linda Pho, saw me and wandered over. Instead of deriding my silliness, she grinned her wide-as-the-sea grin, and called over our friend Judy. We conspired. Linda thought they would make appropriately mysterious greetings for the Chinese New Year, and on the back she drew the characters for double prosperity. We signed them, "the balcony crew," and left them at the office of our deeply tolerant professor, Bruce Birkett, who kept them hanging there for many years. We told our delighted buddies, and thereafter we all had
to sit with our feet propped up on the lecture hall railing. Thus began a happy collaboration--we studied hard together, but we always tried to be ridiculously silly while doing it. Juggling, punning, and in-class-cartooning all made us rather happy folk. Linda was one of the founding members of the Society of Mad Hatters at Cal, a group that existed to serve tea to strangers for no better reason than that they might have a good day. (Oh, how we confounded people at the Business School!) If it was cold and drippy outside, we could go hang out with the industrious Linda, who held office hours for the Society of Mechanical Engineers she was already so passionate about. Our mailing list was called Fignewton, and we traded physics tips and tricks along with terrible jokes and college anxieties. I moved closer to Berkeley that summer, but many people went home. Linda went to LA.
That summer we learned that she would not take up her rightful place beside us in the fall because she had been diagnosed with leukemia, and needed to stay home in LA to be treated at the City of Hope hospital. For the next three years she kept us updated by email, and we sent down goodies and get well cards. Many of her friends went down to visit. We went on with college, while she fought her cancer and took classes whenever she could. Her hard work was inspiring from afar, but the distance made it hard for some of us to stay close to her--including, sadly, me. In the midst of our senior year, she seemed to be cured, and came up north to visit us. We had split off into our various majors and rarely all hung out together anymore, but we piled into a restaurant, and marvelled at the brightness of her face. She still adored the mathematics she was so good at, and she was planning on being a math teacher.
In May of 2000 many of us graduated. In the summer of 2000 Linda had a relapse, and she passed away. The next time our balcony crew gathered was to write notes to her family in remembrance.
This was all brought to mind by one of those friends I made in those magically sticky days, Rishi--or "Juggling-Boy". He's helping his brother's girlfriend Elaine Ybarra raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Marathon in Arizona next January. He told me how proud he is of her, because when she started she struggled with the half mile run and now she is sailing through half a marathon at a time. That's the kind of grit Linda had.
A little idle Googling made me realize that there is almost no trace of our exploits on the web. You can read an article from the Berkeley Issues Magazine Fall 1997 issue that profiles Linda
, but I decided I wanted to put some of my happier memories out in this public space. If you feel so inspired, you can sponsor Elaine
, and check out the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society webpage
, the National Marrow Donor Program
, and City of Hope Hospital
. Please consider contacting Rishi about pooling your donation with his (which will be in memory of Linda)--he may be able to arrange for matching funds. (Email me for his address.) You can also read about a potential breakthrough in the treatment of some kinds of Leukemia
. And remember--we always need blood donors
Hug your friends, and savor the moments of silliness.