Last semester, my friends and I who went on the Costa Rica program joined together in solidarity over the loss of our professor, and friend Patricia Ortiz. We were told that
there had been an accident in Costa Rica and that Pati “had not made it.” It came as a shock. At first, I thought it was a joke, a cruel, not-funny, sick joke. How could Pati, this bioluminescent, smart, brilliant scientist, talented artist, and powerhouse of a woman be gone?
That night and for a few days after, we gathered together, cried, and told stories. But after those first days, I stopped letting myself think about Pati and Costa Rica. How do you articulate the loss of someone who was only in your life for such a short period of time? Just from a couple of months of interaction Pati impacted me and I think everyone she knew so profoundly. To this day her memory is one I look to for guidance when I feel weak or selfish or pretentious or scared or all of the above.
Now I will shift my attention back to a woman who flashed into my life for a short time, but while there filled my world with enough light to guide me through a century. The only way I know how to describe Pati is as an artist. She wasn’t the brooding, shut yourself indoors, throw feelings onto a canvas and call it passion type of artist. She took her passions and interests and mixed them into this melting pot of art projects that took all forms.
She recorded her love of the environment in nature documentaries and in beautiful songs, sung in her soft, dreamy voice. She made little paintings and designed her own clothing. She was one of a kind. My friend Jeff told me about this concert she gave at the Festival International de Artes in San Juan. She was performing a song about how a particular seedpod germinates. As part of her song she brought the actual seedpods that she threw into the audience to help them learn about germination. Of course, most of the audience had no idea what this crazy science woman was doing, but there she was this bright light using art, and music to teach people about the environment.
Pati was one of those people bursting with creative energy, breathing life into every little thing she dedicated herself to. She would take things that were dead and make them into something new. Often Pati would grab the wings of dead butterflies or moths and make beautiful stickers. It might sound strange, but if you could see them you’d realize that they were the coolest stickers ever.
I think one of the most important things to remember about Pati, which is seen in the way she lived her life as well as her art, was to not be afraid of life. Everything is an art project and your job is to create, even if it all goes wrong. One of my favorite artists once said, “To be an artist is to believe in life.” That was exactly what Pati did and what she taught everyone around her. Believe in life, do good things, and just live.