I had the honor of offering reflections at the memorial service for our dear friend Ruth Van Erp a year ago today. I first read the following reflections from Bob (who to our surprise had known Ruth longer than anyone else in the room other than her family) and then followed them with a poem I’d composed over the three days since we’d received the news of Ruth’s death.
The day I first met Bob at NYU 23 years ago, he was excited for me to meet his friend Ruth. He spoke of her like they had known each other forever, a year or two already. Turned out it had only been a week. But the first day they met they had spent seven hours together talking and had became instant friends.
Here are some of Bob’s memories of Ruth:
She was always driven to make her art, even when no one else would be. She’d be the last one in the back of the studio, using the collar of her white T-shirt to rub the clay from her face. It didn’t matter to her whether she would become a famous artist, she just needed to do her work, and continued to do so, for as long as she could.
My best early memories of Ruth were visiting the polish restaurants in the East Village for banana pancakes, where we would try to out-eat each other, while we discussed the bad artwork being made at the time: the wordy conceptualists that these two very intuitive, visual, sensual artists couldn’t relate to. But then we’d ask for extra butter and syrup and all our problems would dissolve.
After the tearful day Ruth moved from Brooklyn to Massachusetts, our time together consisted mostly of phone calls, and she’d tell me of making jam, reading a book, working in the garden, playing with Bennett, making dinner for Pat, working on stained glass. I wouldn’t realize until the end of the conversation that she’d done all of that in one day.
I watched her evolved from a youth with a lot of hidden secrets of pain, to an amazingly open person who was very giving and insightful.
I will always remember the many times Ruth and I walked arm-in-arm through the streets of New York City.
She was more like a sister than a friend.
She was my hero.
And here is a poem I worked on over the past three days in Ruth’s memory.
Ruth was not a woman.
She was a mother goddess in Vulcan’s work clothes,
a fashioner of flesh from clay,
the gardener and the garden all at once.
Ruth was not beautiful.
She was a majestic mountain range,
the vast blueness of a rolling ocean,
the entire sky at dawn.
Ruth was not a friend.
She was the seat of wisdom comfortably upholstered,
unconditional forgiveness smiling softly,
a warm embrace coming from six feet up.
Like with anyone larger than life,
it’s sometimes easier
to say what was not
than to grasp what was
and attempted definitions
dissolve into poetry,
I want to say I’ll find her in the landscape, the sea and the sky.
Buy a book at the Strand or eat at Polonia,
and recognize her in the book or the breakfast.
Or see her peering through her stain-glassed panes in our home,
or hear the lilt of her voice in a passage from her blog,
or catch a glimpse of her in her daughter’s smile.
But I know the absence will be truer,
and vast enough to hold her being,
and to teach me how
to know her
when I need her most
when I feel her
You can still read Ruth’s blog in it’s entirety at http://www.warrior-ruth.blogspot.com