I wasn’t always Ruth.
I’m sure I’ve told you this story, about how my mother named me Mavourneen, Celtic for “my darling” and my father refused to bring me home from the hospital with that name. I was the seventh of nine children, his fifth daughter, and he’d have nothing to do with that Irish nonsense.
So he named me Ruth, and I have to believe there was a soft-spoken angel whisperin’ in his ear, or maybe it was a six-pack of beer, but in any case I came home as Ruth Marie Herne.
End of story.
Today’s post is on persistence. I know, I know, you are SICK TO DEATH of hearing me lecture on persistence, on going for the gold, staying the course, on focus, focus, focus, always going faster, higher, stronger. Citius, Altius, Fortius, yaddi, yaddi, blah, blah, blah.
Well turn the page, darling, because I’m not saying anything all that new today. We're celebrating a momentus birthday here in Seekerville, a place where persistence, determination and focus pays off!
It is a custom to read the book of Ruth in many Jewish temples or homes on the Shavuot, the day of harvest celebration. And ya’ gotta love Ruth. Oh Mylanta, are you kidding me? She is the breath of sunshine, a Moabite princess diminished to poverty by circumstances beyond her control. She loses her husband, her brother-in-law, her sister-in-law, her father-in-law and is left with no one but...
You guessed it.
Her mother-in-law, Naomi, who would rather her name be Mara, meaning bitter…
Sounds like a great time to me. (Wry sigh injected here).
Does our princess throw in the towel? Pack up her camel skin valise with the snake-leather handle believed to be the original Versace in early acid green, very Roman with a touch of Galatia in the hand-stitched panels?
Oh, no. Not her. She embraces her grumpy MIL, gives a great little speech that lives on today, and marches off to slay the dragons of separatism. Somewhere along the way she loses her tiara because no one ever paints their self-supposed images of her with one, and since Kodak , Polaroid and Fuji were yet to come, we look at Ruth from our internal image-makers.
Beautiful? Plain? Depends on the viewer, I’d bet, but what shines through is her kindness, her warmth, her insistence on putting Naomi first. Ruth was willing to forego her personal comfort, her return to Moab (now maybe life wasn’t all that great in Moab, it’s hard to know, and the Moabites were noted for having little sympathy for the Israelites and Ruth had converted, but she was a princess, so… you be the judge. Princess of Moab vs. barefoot straggler living in poverty… Hey, I saw The Princess Diaries. Wouldn’t we all choose the princess route? Come on, let’s be serious here.)
Whither thou goest, I will go. Whither thou lodgest, I will lodge. And thy people shall be my people, and thou God, my God…
Let’s go back to that sweet baby girl. ME. Adorable. I mean really, I’m not lying, I was a cute kid, but all babies are cute. Such a precious gift of God.
(Cue the dark music… Brooding… Deep bass undertones from the horn section…)
But then things didn’t go according to plan, at least not the plan I would have mapped out. Life tumbled downhill. My grandmother died around my second birthday. My mom helped nurse her through cancer, taking me across town on a series of buses to help her mother. At age 40, Mom was pregnant for my younger brother, toting me across town, and tending her dying mother before coming home to an alcoholic husband.
She crashed. Became an alcoholic herself, a brilliant woman, a natural writer with an aptitude for words I find enchanting and engrossing, she let depression and Black Velvet tug her into the abyss. I have no memories of my mother sober until I was in my thirties, with kids of my own.
Sad story, right? Oh, it gets sadder, but I’m not going to dwell on that now. Actually, not ever.
It was what it was, and the bits and pieces that complete our lives weave the fabric that makes us. I was blessed to be a student at Sacred Heart, a great Catholic school in the pre-tuition days, in a neighborhood where several neighbors allowed me not only to play with their kids (this was not universal, believe me) but encouraged my humor, my flights of fancy, my imaginative bend, making me feel special. For those times, those moments, those seconds, I was special.
And then I went home… Oh my stars, Oprah Book Club entry, here we come!
Survivors aren’t born. They’re made. I’ve studied nature vs. nurture, and I know that inherent tendencies toward hopefulness and optimism come genetically, but I also know that God hands each and every one of us choices. Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly…
We ponder. We weigh. We choose.
I’m a dreamer, no two ways about it, but I CHOOSE to be a doer. Studying my parents, I saw the brilliance of my mother washed away by her unwillingness or inability to stand her ground. Go the distance. Her brilliance was her gift and her demise, because she didn’t muster the ambition to be all she could be.
But her inaction became my action. Her dream was put to rest, but before she died she asked me to use my maiden name in my writing name, “so that everyone will know you were mine.”
So what kept my childish dream of becoming a writer alive through decades of life, a young woman with no college education, no higher degrees, educated in the classroom of life, mother of six?
Faith. Hope. Love. In Hansel and Gretel style God dropped bits and pieces of hope, tiny words of encouragement and belief from teachers, friends, family. The dream went on hold for twenty-five years of child-raising and nametag/hairnet jobs, but those jobs and positions were rife with characters who show up in books today.
I was Ruth, gleaning in the fields of retail and waitressing, grabbing shafts of untrampled wheat from the goofy customers, the grumpy bosses, the know-it-all colleagues, developing protagonists who might not show up for a decade or two, but one gathers where ye may, right?
Ruth was a princess who became what she needed to be, did what she needed to do. How can we, in this wondrous day of instant communication, living in a land of plenty, do less?
Ruth challenged herself to stay the course, not knowing what lay ahead, much like us. Her persistence is a great lesson learned, a wonderful example of a true princess, the kind that knows there’s a pea beneath the stack of mattresses…
And ignores it because it’s just a stupid ol’ pea, anyhow.