Self Begs Loyal Blog Readers’ Indulgence

For she is still perusing the Alumni Matters section of the Stanford Magazine, still engrossed in examining other lives.

Now, in contrast to previous post which highlighted the number of children/marriages/dogs/horses/jobs held by various sundry Stanford alums, self is perusing the obits. And here, interspersed with the obits for alums who met untimely deaths resulting from “household accidents” (in their 50s and early 60s — there are quite a number of these !!!), are two that self thinks are particularly worthy of note.

The first is for Edward Seidensticker.

Who remembers reading The Tale of Genji, dear blog readers? Self read it in Manila, when she was still in high school. For Dearest Mum, in addition to being beautiful beyond compare and the best pianist in the Philippines, was also an avid reader and had introduced self to the wonders of a book called The World of the Shining Prince, by Ivan Morris. And, years later, browsing in the Stanford Bookstore, self stumbled on a version of Lady Shikibu Murasaki’s The Tale of the Shining Prince, the translation by Edward Seidensticker.

The strange thing is, the obit notes that Seidensticker, though 86, did not die from illness but from a head injury, which puts him in the same category as those alums who died at much younger ages. Self imagines he must have been quite active, then, all the way until the end. Here are excerpts from his obit :

    Edward G. Seidensticker, of Tokyo, died August 26 (2007), at 86, of complications from a head injury. He was an eminent translator of Japanese who brought the work of ancient and modern writers to the English-speaking public . . . During World War II, he was a language officer with the Marines, and at war’s end worked as a translator in occupied Japan . . . He lived in Japan from 1948 to 1962. Upon his return to the United States he taught at Stanford and the University of Michigan before joining the Columbia faculty in 1978 where, at his death, he was a professor emeritus of Japanese literature. He was most widely known for his translation of The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu and works by novelist Yasunari Kawabata. He won a National Book Award in 1971 for his transaltion of Kawabata’s The Sound of the Mountain.

Next, dear blog readers, is a very different kind of obit. This one is for a seemingly ordinary man whose life was transformed by extraordinary circumstances:

    Bruce Martin Smith, ’58, of Homer, Alaska, died September 21 (2007) at 71, in a plane crash. He was the first family member to sue Libya after the 1988 bombing of Flight 103, in which his wife was among 270 people killed. After the terrorist attack he began a campaign to expand a federal program that offered rewards for information leading to the arrest of terrorist suspects. He persuaded airline trade groups to establish a parallel reward program. It now offers more than $4 million for tips that lead to the arrest of terrorists plotting to destroy airliners, and helped in the capture of the 1993 World Trade Center bomber, who was convicted of plotting to destroy U.S. airliners. After his first, failed suit against Libya, he lobbied Congress to amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act so that families of victims could sue state sponsors of terrorism in United States courts. Eventually Libya paid $2.7 billion to the families of Flight 103. (Smith had three sons, two daughters, and four grandchildren.)

Self marvels that: (a) Smith’s wife’s death in a plane crash was what started this man’s transformation, and (b) that he, too, should have his life ended in a plane crash, almost 20 years later.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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