Diana Tietjens Meyers – Judson Memorial 10.29.2011

More than any conversation – rich and probing as they often were – more than any of the help she gave me to improve my thinking and my writing – and there was lots of it – what I remember about Sally is how it felt to be her friend. I always felt and still feel deeply honored and grateful that we were friends. As everyone knows (or should know), Sally’s contributions to philosophy shook the foundations of traditional ethics and substituted a superior understanding of how to live well. As many others know, she fully lived the system of values and virtues that she put forward in her published work. And, yes, I admired her for her accomplishments and her goodness. But my feelings of honor and gratitude aren’t the feelings of someone who contemplates an extraordinary person from a distance and feels small by comparison. Nor are they the feelings that might arise because someone takes pains to make sure you’re aware of her excellences. Sally never did anything remotely like that. Rather, my feelings of honor and gratitude stemmed from what it was like to be with her.

Sally’s unsurpassable consideration for others came out in different ways. As her condition worsened and she developed more and more motor tics, she worried that these difficulties might be making me uncomfortable at restaurants. The last time I saw her only a couple of weeks before she died, she worried that having her legs massaged while we chatted might bother me. Of course, none of this ever bothered me except in the sense that it betrayed Sally’s suffering. All that mattered was to continue our friendship as best we could, but her illness did limit her endurance. Luckily she could be counted on to protect me from taxing her too much and say when she needed to conclude a visit.

Sally’s forthcomingness about her needs brings to mind something else that I treasured about her – her honesty. I found her honesty idiosyncratic. I mean that she had a knack for being honest in ways that other people can’t pull off. Five years ago I sent her a paper for comments – a paper that I thought was pretty polished. Over dinner, we discussed some parts of it at length, moved on to other topics, and then as we were about to leave the restaurant Sally said something about the paper being “very ambitious” and something about the paper I “would eventually write.” In no uncertain terms, she had told me what bad shape my paper was in, and the paper is still in my drawer awaiting further revision. Yet her tone was so casual, so unportentous that her criticism didn’t crush or sting me.

Sally didn’t gossip, but she did talk candidly about people we both knew who were embroiled in predicaments in which the two of us had bit parts. Along those lines, she once made a comment about a mutual friend that took me aback because it amounted to a fairly serious reproach. On anyone else’s lips, it would have come off as preachy or snide or backbiting. No one but Sally could have told such a truth. Lacking the nasty ulterior motivations that would have compromised the integrity of her observation, Sally could be as honest about her friends’ faults as she was insistent on their virtues. It wouldn’t in the least surprise me to learn that she occasionally confided criticisms of my shortcomings to other friends, but I wouldn’t love her any the less for it. I’d only be sad that she was probably right.

I’ve sketched these vignettes hoping that they show why I feel honored and grateful to have been Sally’s friend. Yet, honor and gratitude are humbling states of mind, so I hope I have also conveyed how valued Sally made me feel. She was so generous and kind in the minutiae of her life that she expressed appreciation for my friendship while leaving me moved by tender awe.