Eulogy for Ruth Merson Rothstein, 1923-2013
Carry It On
I knew her death was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier to get the news. She had cancelled our planned dinner of July 8 because she was feeling tired. I assumed the worst, because she really enjoyed our dinners and only cancelled when she had to fulfill an obligation she could not avoid. The one she had to fulfill this time was passing from us with the same grace with which she had lived. I had three thoughts upon learning that she was gone. The first was that no one had better dare send flowers; her angered ghost would rise up and grouse, “THAT’S NOT GOING TO HELP ANYONE!!” Or perhaps, if someone asked if she wanted flowers, she would have simply replied with her classic response to those who said something silly, inaccurate, incorrect, or untrue. She would lean toward you slightly, look at you fondly with those unforgettable eyes, and murmur, “No, Emily. Noooo.”
My second thought was the words of Joe Hill, the union organizer and activist who was executed in Utah in 1915. Shortly before his death, he wrote to his colleague, “Big Bill” Haywood, "I die like a true blue rebel. Don't waste any time in mourning. Organize... Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don't want to be found dead in Utah."
I smiled at the thought that, if there is an afterlife, Ruth is already busy organizing it, whipping them all into shape in order to create a more efficient organization – one that welcomes all comers with great compassion.
Compassion, the dictionary tells us, means “to suffer with.” And my third thought was of her ironclad exterior and her compassionate heart. It was best described by her long-time friend Ron Anderson, M.D., former CEO of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas, and a true kindred spirit to Ruth: “[She was] tough as an old boot, with a heart as soft as cotton for those who are the most vulnerable.”
Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Ruth knew that more than most people. Ryan Coogler, the 27-year-old director of the searing film “Fruitvale Station,” which is about the utterly unnecessary death of an unarmed young African-American man (yet another) at the hands of the authorities (in this case, the transit police of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system), was interviewed on CNN and asked, “What is this film about, at its heart?” Coogler replied, “This film is about humanity.”
Ruth was all about humanity. How well she knew that we belong to each other! And although we can hardly try to emulate her – that would be a fool’s errand – we can all, each in our own way, try to take care of someone else, protect someone who is vulnerable, support those who follow in Ruth’s splendid path. Don’t mourn; organize! And we had better do it, because otherwise Ruth’s fighting spirit will never leave us alone.
Dear Ruth, may your beloved spirit never leave us alone.
7 August 2013