Life, Death, and Serendipity

Gerda, Stephanie, Joyce, Gwen once upon a time at an IAM gathering in NYC

Last night I learned of a friend’s death.
She died in September of 2015.
Joyce and I had corresponded for ten years. Not often, but once a year or so, and we spent time together each year at the International Arts Movement (IAM) gatherings. We would sit together, and share meals, friends, and stories. October 2014 was the last IAM gathering and Meaghan Ritchey did a splendid job putting it all together. That week Joyce and I wondered what would happen to the friendships of such widely dispersed people held together by this brief annual meeting. Artists and creatives from across the states and around the world. For some of us, this connection kept us going throughout the rest of the lonely year. We wondered and hoped for the best. After the glorious grand finale banquet, Joyce and I shared a cab. It was raining and icky out. I was planning on taking the subway, but my hotel was on the way to her’s so it was not an imposition. Besides, the end of something so important is hard and the cab ride extended the event a few more minutes.

 

I remember the last time I spoke with Joyce, but I do not remember when it was. Joyce called rather than write. It was so good to hear her voice. It did not seem like a goodbye.
Joyce was an important person who knew important people. People whose work I admired while it hung on the walls of my favorite museums. To me, they were abstract art gods, names on labels and in books. To Joyce they were friends. Her stories were not about celebrities, but people. Some of these people happened to be celebrities.

While she moved in big city circles, she lived in Colorado and had a western mindset and heart. Perhaps our pioneer roots connected? Or, maybe it was something more mundane and yet extraordinary that began our friendship.

Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love

Wait a minute, I knew about the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation from International Arts Movement (IAM) gatherings in NYC. I knew Marie Sharp! (I wrongly assumed, with the passage of time, that the woman speaking, the head of the Marie Sharp Foundation, was Marie Sharp.)

Sylvia gently, and with a good sense of humor, explained to me that I did NOT know Marie Sharp as she had been dead for quite a while. Eventually, we puzzled it out. The key had been when I told Sylvia that she looks like you.
Sylvia said, “You met my sister, Joyce!”

The world is small. Be careful what you say about people. You might be talking to their big sister.

The next year at the at the IAM gathering my friend and fellow creative, Ping, and I ran into Joyce in the bathroom. Joyce was important and we were not, but bathrooms are great equalizers so I told Joyce the story of meeting her sister. I had forgotten Sylvia’s name, but Joyce knew who had the book so it was not long before we had all the details sorted out. “You met my sister, Sylvia!” Laughter ensued and we all went to dinner and were fast friends ever after.

Joyce was both an encourager and a story teller. So I am.

The next year my oldest two children, Ruth Meharg and Forrest Davidson (I will explain his last name another time), joined me at IAM and I was able to introduce them to Joyce. We shared stories about life, art, and her grandchildren. Our impromptu dinner club kept growing.

I knit a “Generative Bunny” one year for the IAM show. Her she is, too big for her box!

Ruth, Forrest, and I stayed on in NYC for a few extra days after the IAM gathering to see sights and we ran into Joyce at the Strand Bookstore. She was adding to her children’s book collection. We compared our finds and she went back in to get a book that we introduced her to. (I wish I could remember which book it was.) 

Another year, crossing a street at night, Joyce pointed out two young men crossing from the other side. She called out and they exchanged waves. She told me who they were and shared their philosophies as creatives. Rex Hausmann, artist and community builder in San Antonio, and I connected later on Joyce’s recommendation. A new artist friend. (Google Rex. He is amazing!)  So many new friends.
Beyond art and family, we connected on faith. Joyce lived out of her faith. She rubbed elbows with movers and shakers and she was not moved. She was light everywhere she went. She was also tough. I like that combination. My life is brighter for her presence.

I am not sure how we started writing letters. Maybe I sent her a thank you note? Maybe she, a master communicator, sent me a note- I do not remember, but it started and I am thankful. Sometimes we wrote notes and other times letters. I wrote because she had sewn into my life and I appreciated her. I also wanted to share my creative journey. I think Joyce wrote back out of kindness.
I was aware that I had not heard from Joyce for a while, but she was a VERY busy woman and not busy in the fussy kind of way. Joyce got things done. I had no idea how long it had been since we visited.

I am not a linear thinker. I tend to bunch similar events together in my mind. All the IAM gatherings, in my heart and head, are one enormous, glorious event! I had some postcards printed with my artwork on them. They turned out so nice that I decided I needed to get back to writing notes. I wrote to Joyce.

Yesterday came the call from Colorado Springs, CO. The connection was bad. I could not understand who was calling. I asked her to call me back on the landline. By the time the caller finally heard all ten numbers the line had cleared. It was Kathi.

Kathi is Joyce’s daughter. She told me her mom had died in September 2015. I tried not to cry, but I cried a little.
Kathi and I had a good visit. She is a painter, too. I think someday our paths will cross. I hope so. Heck, out of 400+ people in a line I met her Aunt Sylvia and the next year I met her mom in a NYC bathroom. Meeting Kathi would be the least strange connection!

Joyce became sick in July and died of cancer in September. Kathi told me that her mom made the most of the time she had left after the diagnosis. Joyce made the most of her time before the diagnosis, too. Her last months were filled with family and friends. Her youngest grandchild heard Joyce give a talk about her vision. (I wonder if this was the grandchild that she was buying the books for when we ran into her in the Strand. (We crossed paths in the Strand two different years. If you are not familiar with the Strand, it would behoove you to look it up.)
Joyce sang in her church choir for decades. Kathi shared that 70 members of the choir came to the house to sing with and for Joyce. They left and she died a half hour later with her family close. It was a good end.

Tears welled up sporadically yesterday afternoon and evening. Joyce and I were separated by generation and distance, but she was dear to my heart. This morning snippets of that last conversation are coming to mind. Seems like she was telling me about new music the choir was preparing for the 2014 Christmas season.

The moral?

Write letters. Don’t wait. Surround yourself with family, friends, and people who sing songs.
Do what you are called to do. (Calling and job do not have to be the same to be happy.)
Buy children’s books. Go to banquets. Share cabs. And talk to strangers standing with you in long lines.

I am very glad I did.

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