This is a difficult day for all of us.
Two things stand out about my sister, Linda Ann Bernstein. First, she was a woman of strong views, strongly felt and strongly expressed. Second, she was an artist who worked hard all her life to see, to experience the world, and to capture for the rest of us what she saw and experienced.
Linda had decided opinions on all sorts of things, and she was not shy about expressing those opinions – whether on politics, government, publishing, the art world, life in New York City, living abroad, or anything else. Her sense of humor was sometimes offbeat, sometimes caustic. She always had the courage of her convictions, and she never backed down from a fight.
In particular, Linda had strong feelings about driving, which sometimes she used as a mode of self-expression. In the summer of 1980, we were going to pick up our parents at the airport after their “red-eye” flight home from a vacation in California. The travel agency told me that we should meet them at LaGuardia Airport. They got the airport wrong. We got up before 6 a.m. and Linda drove to LaGuardia. The moment that she realized that we had to be at JFK Airport, she ran back to the car, with me following as fast as I could, and she tore out of the parking lot on two wheels. We rocketed through rush-hour traffic at speeds approaching 120 m.p.h., cutting through red lights and across lanes of traffic, cutting off 18-wheelers. We got there in one piece – but I remember Mom looking at me oddly from time to time and asking, “Are you all right?”
Linda had strong feelings for people. She deeply loved our parents, and her brothers, so sometimes she had her own unique ways of expressing those feelings. And she loved Roman, who has been with her through good times and bad, and especially now, in these last months. Roman, thank you for all that you did for her and were to her.
Linda was an artist. Those four simple words don’t begin to capture her immersion in and dedication to her art. As a little girl, she drew birds – small, delicate sketches that, over and over again, in so many different ways, captured the miracles that are birds. At the age of six, she already was exploring various techniques and media of art – pencil drawings, oils, watercolors. Her love of nature recurred, again and again, in her work – watercolors of Lake Tahoe or of a bald eagle alighting on its nest; oil paintings of Utah’s Bryce Canyon and of a chipmunk fleeing a forest fire; and later underwater photographs of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. She never stopped developing her skills and branching out into new kinds of art, new focal points for her art. And she was committed, deeply and ardently, to that process of artistic growth and development. She was one of the first to explore the artistic possibilities in the realm of computer graphics. And for her, the camera, which some artists sneer at, was as natural and valuable an artist’s tool as the pencil, pen, or paintbrush.
In recent years, Linda used her artistic gifts and talents to express her love of New York City and its skyline. In her New York City photography, she brought to these subjects the same love, engagement, and quest to capture life in art that, as a little girl, she brought to those delicate sketches of birds.
Last Thursday, when I came home, I found the latest issue of The New York Review of Books waiting for me. And in it I found a poem by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, “What Passed at Colonus,” inspired by the closing scenes of Sophocles’ play, Oedipus at Colonus. The following lines, which Heaney (following Sophocles) gives to the aged king Oedipus as he faces death, capture what, I believe, Linda would say to us now:
Let us remember Linda, and by remembering her life and the passion with which she lived every day of it, relearn the meaning of the word “love.”