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Jillian Louise Mills

To Noam Chomsky, Professor of Linguistics, and Humanity

Published onApr 19, 2019
Jillian Louise Mills

To Noam Chomsky, Professor of Linguistics, and Humanity

When I was a Linguistics student at MIT, just a little earlier this millennium, I was perhaps too timid to brave a meeting with you, or to even introduce myself! But on this occasion, given this very privileged opportunity to say my small tribute in your honour, I would not be so meek.

I’m fairly certain you wouldn’t recognize my name, but you would recognize my person: the young woman with the birthmark who you sometimes saw working alone in the MITWPL office. Our direct interactions were few but cherished—friendly nods exchanged in the hallway; one evening when your access card malfunctioned on Stata’s 8th floor, I opened the door to let you in; the talk you gave to my class in our “first year office,” where the acoustics were so backwards that all of your words were carried beyond its walls and all of the outer noises carried in—brief moments that I doubt you would remember, except that I’ve seen your memory for detail and events in action so I shouldn’t presume. Even at my shy distance reading your work, Bev Stohl’s blog, hearing Pritty Patel recount her dissertation meetings and Lisa Travis her reminiscences, and attending as many talks as I could fit, you impressed upon me two profound lessons: the importance of action, and the creativity, resourcefulness, and goodness of humankind.

I share these convictions, fully and completely, yet too often let myself (with a certain help from genetics and brain chemistry) be overwhelmed by that anxious pessimism and hopelessness that could slip so easily into inaction and apathy. Still, despite all that you have witnessed of this world, you continue to drive toward something better. I’ve stowed your example somewhere deep in my soul, to retrieve in my despairing moments. Although you share the space with my many other role models (parents, sisters, brother, friends, partner, teachers), there is a sense of connectedness knowing this one part is shared with likely millions of other souls influenced similarly.

Thank you and Happy Birthday, from the depths of my soul. For you, a poem I wrote years ago if I can be so bold:


I spoke with Noam Chomsky,

he spoke with a parisian accent I could hardly understand, and wore a fisher’s hat, a real anarchist Jacques Cousteau. Seeing him I was startled,

seeing me he was wise,

noticed the empty bus-seat beside me, the flow of embarkers passing it up,

“you should stop pushing people away” he suggests.

Smiling kind and modest as he does, watching the empty bus-seat beside me, the flow of embarkers passing it up: “it’s not your fault, but it still is.”

Noam Chomsky stood on the bus until his stop, and climbed down in careful, aging steps.


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