In some past life, I attended a french lycee for eight years. I hated some aspects of it (snobism, arrogance, archaism), but I loved others (the seductive French language, the excentric teachers, immersing in literature texts, performing waiting for godot with my best friend in the garden, philosophy club). After my graduation, I never turned there again. I did not identify myself with my school (I do not remember identifying myself with an institution anyway). Still years later I realise so many things from the past shape us deeply without we notice it.

Soeur Vincent, whom I first met in the school library at a period where I condemned myself to perfect solitude at the age of 12, became gradually my friend. Soeur Vincent was one of the nuns at the lycee (which used to be a monastery and then hospital in the past before turning into a boarding school). When my father attended this school 40 years before myself, most of his teachers were priests and some of our teachers were nuns as well. Soeur Vincent was not teaching – she was working in the small clinic associated with the school and doing administrative work at the library. She was so serious and authoritative that it took time for me to become friend with her. But the more I get to know her, the more I was amazed by her personality and life.

Soeur Vincent was assisting old patients in Istanbul (reading books or helping with their medication) but also working on Ottoman/Turkish architecture and art, playing harpsichord at church. I attended the seminar she gave on the famous Iznik tiles and a concert she gave at the church of Saint Marie. She was a passionate reader as well. I like imagining her as a Manon Lescaut who, after a sad love story, decided to become a religious person. Yet, she told me that she would have become a social worker if she had not become a nun, because she liked doing smg related to people. What was interesting, she never showed a fake and exaggerated compassion for others. She had a high sense of duty and respect for people but she did not avoid getting angry with students if they misbehaved. She never showed off what she did for others and it took time for me to fully grasp the rich life she had. 

Trained in church, Soeur Vincent never liked preaching. She even did not talk too much. Her letters she was sending from France after she left Turkey due to her illness, were never wordy or grandiose. They reflected affection and trust for her friend which I was proud to have become. They looked like final conversations giving me strength and hope. 

I now come to see how lives like hers shaped my own way of looking at things more than many academics. Soeur Vincent was not impressive in her outlook or way of talking. Her grandeur came from what she did: Everything she did, she did it with great seriousness and labour of love. She was at the same time historian, musician, nurse and friend. She had no material interest or necessity in any of those things but she had a real pleasure in doing them. 

In some respect, I thought she was too self-enclosed, not aiming at bigger changes and rather underestimating her potentials; in another respect, I think this is what she had chosen to do. And who can make a final judgement about what a good life is after all…A teacher of mine told me that the way I look at and do things in the academia is too old fashioned. When I think of Soeur Vincent, I want to be more old-fashioned. I do not think I would choose the life she had, but still, her character and virtues of a craftsmen as Richard Sennett would call it, is a remedy to the ever competitive, individualistic, uncreative and exhausting atmosphere haunting university corridors…

Cordialement votre, Soeur Vincent.

Advertisements