Eulogy for Angela Maria Volan
Given by Stephen G(eorge) Volan
at Her Wake, Merrillville, Indiana USA,
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Stephen is Angela's second oldest brother.

ANGELA AND I OFTEN talked technology. I was so proud that she was the owner of a Macintosh like me. Computers now all use graphic depictions of an office desk: you have your file cabinet, your wastebasket, and your blotter. On a computer, though, you can decorate your blotter: you can take one of your favorite pictures and make it take up the entire background.

When I sat down to her laptop Sunday, the desktop of her computer was a close-up of a medieval mosaic. I would come back to it and discover that it had changed and a new mosaic was on the screen. Every time I came back to it, there was some new, beautiful work of medieval art. I investigated and found that they were pictures of the mosaics depicting Old Testament scenes—the Creation, the Expulsion, the Flood—in the narthex of the Basilica di San Marco, the most famous church in Venice and one of the pinnacles of Byzantine architecture. They are breathtaking; they are hundreds of years old, but could just as easily be images from a children's book by Maurice Sendak.

It is no accident that we are in Merrillville today. Angela was a child of this community. When our father brought us permanently to the U.S., he chose Indiana. The Gary area was highly industrialized, with lots of work for a hand surgeon. It was close to Chicago, my parents loved opera, and who should be singing at the Lyric at the time but the great Callas herself? And there were bustling communities of many ethnicities in northwest Indiana—[West African, Mexican, Puerto Rican,] Polish, Serb, Thai, Armenian, Greek, you name it. It was here that Angela was born and raised. This is home.

Not long after she was born, Saints Constantine & Helen parish moved into their new home here in Merrillville, here in the great big cathedral right down the street, the first Greek Orthodox Cathedral in the state of Indiana. As we grew up, and the Greek-American community with us, we watched the iconography go up little by little: magnificent stained-glass windows, 20 in all, each one depicting a saint; the frescoes on the walls above the altar; the spectacular golden ceiling with seraphim and cherubim. It is hard to conceive now that Angela could not have taken inspiration for her life's work from all those Sundays staring up at the angels, at the saints, at our Lord Jesus Christ.

She was always tall, like me, and it was always, always harder for a girl to be tall like her than for a boy. And with her siblings being three older brothers, how she wanted to be a boy! At 18 months, she kept stripping her dress off every time Mom would put it back on for a photo session. She was not a girl, she was a boy! She wanted to wear pants! With a zipper!

She grew up to be a girl after all, a tall girl, a beautiful girl. I came home from college one summer to discover that Angela at 16 hadn't just turned out to be attractive; she was glowing. She was educated, she was intelligent, she was self-aware. And she could cut you into little pieces with a deft swipe of her rhetorical hand, fshewp!, and your argument would fall apart like a cartoon character. She graduated from Andrean High School here in town, then got accepted at Michigan, where she began to show her brilliance.

And wherever she went, she made friends. She made them by the bushel. I always wanted more time with her. I always was impressed with her friends. They were so cool. They were so smart. I always wanted more time with them too. How did she do it? How did she do it [so easily]?

But Angela harbored a secret: she had a genetic disorder. She and I both had it. At first it just made us tall and thin. She and I would occasionally joke about looking like Byzantine icons. We had the fingers for it; we would pose like the saints: [pose with fingers extended as if giving a blessing].

And then our family learned the downside of her [version of the] disorder. Her circulatory system was less flexible than normal. Her blood vessels were prone to dissection. Slowly, over time, they were unraveling. You wouldn't have known by looking at her that she had had open-heart surgery at the age of 24. She never wanted anyone to know—potential employers, friends, new acquaintances. And who could blame her; as long as it did not distract anyone or keep her down, who needed to know? She wanted to be known the same way all of us want to be known: for what we do, not who we are by accident.

There is an icon of Greek history to draw on, a tale you won't see illustrated in the Church because it predates Christianity. Angela's talent, knowledge and beauty dazzled us. We feasted on the riches that she set before us. We wanted to be more like her. But inside her chest hung the sword of Damocles, hanging over [the passage to] her heart.

And yet. Even those of us who knew full well her health problem never thought that Angela simply wouldn't be around any more. Modern technology routinely saves those who used to die in their prime from this disorder.

And modern technology did a great job on Angela. In the 11 years since her first surgery, she completed her master's degree and her Ph.D. in art history from the University of Chicago. She won an Onassis scholarship to study in Greece for two years, and a Fulbright to study for a year and a half in Greece, Crete and Venice. She won a post-doctoral fellowship at Princeton.

Last year our parents threw two parties to celebrate her Ph.D. One was in Chicago; the other was here in northwest Indiana, for members of the community she had grown up in. Since the day was about her academic achievement, Father Ev, the longtime patriarch of Saints Constantine and Helen who will co-officiate tomorrow, asked her to address the room with a brief talk about her studies, so they all would know what kind of scholarly achievement they were celebrating.

A couple of guests were so interested in Angela's talk that they began asking questions. Critical questions. These were no softball questions; on her day of celebration, she was [apparently] being asked to re-defend her thesis. You could feel the tension in the room as these men, all doctors themselves and very highly educated in more than just medicine, grilled her with questions. Angela handled them with elan, and wowed everyone with her poise and her articulate ability to make her case to their satisfaction. That day, she went from brilliant to incandescent.

But the whole time, she doubted. Perhaps that was the source of her drive. Despite all evidence to the contrary, she found herself lacking. She questioned herself to a fault. My father recited the litany of her [premium] achievements at her graduation last year as a way of saying how proud and impressed he was, how we all were, and what more could he want? But it wasn't enough for Angela. I'll never finish this dissertation. I'll never finish this degree. I am so going to blow this job talk. And even if I do[n't], none of it matters, because I'm never, ever going to get a job.

Yet in April, she landed on her feet: the University of South Florida, in Tampa, offered her a job. They offered her more money than she expected. They offered her research funds, a sabbatical. They were a dynamic, young, up-and-coming art history department at a state university on the rise, and they wanted her.

It was validation like no other. Even though she should have been happy in her own skin, it didn't matter any more. I remember her voice on the phone as she described it. Even she was impressed, and it took a lot to impress Angela. She had no complaints. For once, Angela was happy! Really, truly happy with her state in life.

Two weeks later, on Gregory's birthday, April 29, two years to the day after her second heart surgery, she got sick again. [In May s]he underwent not just an open-heart procedure again, but four other procedures.

Yet even up until last week, no one expected to be here today, including us, including her. Last week she was still sending the occasional email, browsing for moving companies in south Jersey. But she was having too much trouble recuperating this time; she wasn't recovering like in her previous surgeries. She couldn't sleep more than a couple of hours at a time. She was exhausted, from the surgeries, from the anesthesias, from the constant battle with her body and her fears. Saturday night, she asked Mom to sit with her, to hold her hand, to tell her stories, to sleep by her bedside. She said "I love you," and Mom said it back.

In happier days, she once said to one of her best friends, "I have the greatest parents."

Maybe this gathering today would finally have convinced her just how much she had underestimated herself.

She was a brilliant scholar, a fast friend, a clever jokester, a devoted aunt and godmother. She loved and was loved, more than she would ever let herself see, by so many people. For us, besides her nephew Isaac, she was our family's greatest accomplishment.

Our tall little girl is no more. Our babysister is no more. Our friend, confidante, colleague—our inspiration—is no more. Last Sunday, the sword dropped, quietly, and unexpectedly, and sliced us all open. I knew it was there. I don't know why I never thought it would fall.

My father says that one of the most poignant parts of the Orthodox funeral service which you will hear tomorrow is the "Μακαρια Η Οδος" which reads, "Μακαρια η οδος ην πορευεις σημερον οτι ητοιμασθη σοι τοπος αναπαυσεως," and which translates as, "Blessed is the road on which you walk today, for a place of rest has been prepared for you." Angela has been walking down the road to that place since Sunday morning.

She has left behind the trivial tools of today—the camera, the laptop computer, the digital storage disc—for us to deal with. She has boxes of slides and papers, of course, but the entire archive of her digital work is recorded on two DVDs. She will not be around to see how much more efficient we can make our tools. We have them to remember her by, and to honor her legacy, we will ensure that her work is preserved for a future scholar to build on, as she built on the work of scholars before her.

Angela has left behind her quadrivial faculties: the critical eye, the keen intellect, the moral compass, the heart of gold. She was a liberal artist, in every sense of both of those words. Now she is with the people in the images on the walls of those churches, with the subjects of her scholarship—with the kings of Byzantium, the doges of Venice, the animals, the prophets, the saints, the angels.

Angela has left this world behind. But she is here with us again tonight, because we are here together for her.

So go to Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral tomorrow, and stand in the midst of the church where she was inspired, and look up. Or take a trip to Venice and go stand inside St. Mark's Church, or inside any Orthodox Christian church wherever you find one, and look up. Or just stand outside, on any beautiful day with a pale blue sky, and look up. Once you get there, all you'll have to do is emulate what she did in life: look up, and study, and wonder. And whenever you want to, there you will see Angela once again.