It’s the day after my youngest daughter’s wedding, a grand yet simple affair that included three wedding dresses, a parade from the church to the park led by wedding guests playing the Star Wars theme, and an open mic, poignant and ripe with the love of relationship nurtured by my daughter and her husband through years of showing up and building community. They left the church at dusk, on bicycles, after running a gauntlet of sparklers. With tears and weariness, I thought, “Done. The weekend can’t get any better.”
The day after blowout parties like these should be a day of silence and rest in my introverted mind. In our case though, the gathering continued because my mother in law is turning 90 this month. She’s been living with us for a little less than two years, and has, besides her daughter (who I married) three other sons, living in Oregon, and one each in Northern and Southern California. They were all here for the wedding, along with their spouses, and many of the grandchildren too, so it just made sense to throw a big party the day after the wedding.
As a result, we found ourselves gathered in our mountain house on that first Sunday in May for day long festival of eating, drinking, mountain exploration, of celebration of Ruth. When someone turns 90, I’m afraid that there’s sometimes not much to celebrate, other than the elder’s dogged determination to live on. The truth of the matter is that the sunset years can be more fog than beauty, more resignation than hope. The ravages of time and the painful losses people have experienced by that age often leave people vastly diminished, or bitter, or only looking back, offering little more than a sigh for those gathered to honor.
And then there’s Ruth. She’s one of those exceptions that both brings me deep joy and gives me hope. The celebration of her life was a perfectly appropriate extension and affirmation of the life of celebration she pursues almost every day. The chair where she fills her days looks out to the front of our house where she can watch it snow or, this time of year, enjoy the birds and squirrels as they vie for food. She’s always sitting there when I’m returning from work, or an outdoor adventure, or a walk with neighbors, and almost all of the time, she has crochet needles in her hands, and yarn at her feet. She smiles, waves maybe, and gets on with her craft…stitch by stitch.
I’ve been married 37 years, and this stitching of hers was a habit long before I entered her world. She makes things. And what becomes of those miles of yarn, stitched one knot at time so faithfully these past decades? The answer to that question formed the basis of our celebration. My wife and her brothers collected photos from family members, friends, and children in our church who’ve been the recipients of a coveted “Ruth” blanket. I received one as a welcome to the family years ago. My kids each have one. Dozens of new babies in the various churches I’ve led have one. Neighbors. More distant relatives. Blankets ranging from Seahawks logos, to Bears, to a WSU Cougar, are scattered across the country, and so pictures began pouring in. By the end there more than 60.
My daughter Kristi crafted the submissions into a book, which became the centerpiece gift for this woman who I view with the same sense of awe at times as I view the mystics. I hold this view because of her capacity to be fully present, attentive to the moment and task at hand, in spite of the chaos that life sometimes tosses as us.
Her world has risen and fallen, known death and life, wealth and poverty, health and sickness, joy and profound sorrow. The larger world too, has offered up a full dose, just in her lifetime, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, financial scandals, near impeachment of a president, terror, wildfires, earthquakes, and floods. On the surface of things, it’s a whirlwind of change, chaotic. At times upheaval might have been the norm more than stability. Like all of us, I suppose Ruth might have fodder for complaint, or withdrawal into fear. I know that when my own little world is threatened, I’m sometimes overwhelmed and anxious – and my problems are petty in the grand scheme.
In this world of upheaval, both personal and global, she doesn’t complain. She crochets. There’s always another stitch, and then another, and then another. Life’s not stable, nor is it lacking its share of pain and loss. But instead of fear, or the paralysis of anxiety, this woman does what gives her joy, faithfully, as hours turns into days, turn into years, turn in blankets – and blessings – and joy. And it’s that quiet, generous, stable, uncomplaining joy that we were privileged to celebrate that sunny Sunday in the mountains.
My words might preach, if only sometimes. Her life preaches. I know people who can quote chapter and verse, but who are so filled with fear, petty judgements, and bitterness, that they give me reasons not to believe. But this one, sitting quietly, and doing the next thing in spite of everything else that’s happening in the world, and letting a string of faithful moments become a gift to someone, this one, makes me want to live faithfully as a person of service and hope.
She smiles. She blows on her candles, and gets a bit of help finishing the job. She receives as graciously as she gives. And in all of it she reminds me of something I heard recently: “the way we inhabit our spaces – this constitutes our calling”.
Thank you Ruth, for inhabiting so very well. We not only love and honor you, but we want you to know that you bless us – and not bless us only, though that would be enough. You teach us. And to the extent we learn the peace of quiet service, our lives will be the richer for it.