Ruthie Leming was an independent, strong willed, steadfast and stubborn child. She was born and raised, married her high school sweetheart, went to college, became a teacher, birthed 3 daughters, courageously battled Stage 4 small cell lung cancer and died in St. Francisville, LA. And the one thing that never changed was the love she gave her family and friends and the love they gave back.
“The Little Way of Ruthie Leming” written by Rod Dreher is a true story about Rod’s sister Lois Ruth Dreher or just Ruthie. This is not a book I would generally read. It is full of religious reflections and Christian references to prayers, saints and psalms – none of which generally appeal to me in a book or in my life to be honest. But it works in this book because Dreher doesn’t impose his religiosity on the reader. He rather uses it to tell us about Ruthie, who you can’t help but fall in love with, and his own transformative experience upon her dying that brought him back to the small town of his childhood – a town he had literally and figuratively fled as a teen.
The first half of the book is about Ruthie, whose life and death touched everyone she knew and even people she had only just met. Dreher’s transformation comes after Ruthie has died and he sees St. Francisville through new eyes – eyes that only wanted out as a teenager. He sees the limitless love, generosity and selflessness of the townspeople towards Ruthie and her family. And for reasons inexplicable except in a spiritual or God-like sense, he realizes that moving back to St. Francisville, a place he routinely makes fun of with his friends in Philadelphia, to be with his family is where he belongs.
Not only is this book a beautiful tribute to Ruthie dedicated to her three daughters, Hannah, Claire and Rebekah, but it speaks to changes we can make in our lives if we listen, love, trust and remain open to something bigger than ourselves.
My youngest daughter Izzy, announced to me last week that she is an atheist and doesn’t believe in God. I honestly don’t have a big agenda around God so I was calm yet curious and asked what made her decide to be an atheist. Putting aside the randomly weird cartoon video analogy she then showed me about people and their beliefs about cars, I realized I was somewhat upset that she didn’t believe in God – or at least in something. Having had lots of practice with my 17 year old at keeping my thoughts to myself however I decided not to challenge her. But it made me think about what I believe.
Both Ruthie and Dreher had incredible faith in God and were very religious. Yet for each, their belief and religiosity manifested itself differently. However for both, their faith gave them great peace and solace. My friend Annemarie, also battling lung cancer, says she feels infinitely more comfortable in God’s hands then her doctors.
I can’t say that about myself but I do believe there is something bigger than me that can comfort, guide and support me – if I am open to it. For example, being vulnerable, asking for help, loving others and letting them love me, and putting myself “out there” with family and friends are acts of courage and openness that have brought great change and growth in my life. I wouldn’t call that God but I certainly would put it in the “something bigger than me” category.
As Izzy’s mom, I don’t really care whether she believes in God or not. But I do want her to believe in something. For now, I think those something’s are me, her Dad, her sister and to some growing extent herself and the love we all share with her. Over time I hope she is open to believing in something(s) bigger than herself – even if that something is her own inner strength – that guide her as she grows. But no matter what I will always believe in her and her sister and maybe to some extent that’s where it starts – moms and dads who believe in their kids.