Friday, August 16, 2013

Words for the Weekend: The Little Way of Ruthie Leming

I love to read. I love to read because I love to think. Whether its a lengthy story with slow and deep character development that boldly declares a message without ever stating the message itself or a well-worded quote, just a few sentences long that gives me pondering fodder for days, I am attracted to, inspired, and challenged by the power of the written word.

So I've decided, at the beginning of every weekend, to share some words that I deem worth sharing. I hope they comfort, challenge, and inspire you as they have me. Enjoy!

This weekend's words are from a book I just finished called The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, A Small Town , and the Secret of a Good Life by Rod Dreher. The book is the story of the author's little sister, Ruthie, their relationships to each other and with their childhood home. While Rod left their small, Louisiana hometown as soon as he was able, Ruthie stayed and fostered a beautiful community. When Ruthie was diagnosed with cancer, the people of her town cared for her, her husband, Mike, and their family in remarkable and self-sacrificing ways. These words speak to the difficulty and joys of staying in a place.

"Those of us you have moved away are not necessarily callow and ungrateful people. We live in a time and place in which we are conditioned to leave our hometowns. Our schools tell our young people to follow their professional bliss, wherever it takes them. Our economy rewards companies and people who have no loyalty to place. The stories that shape the moral imagination of our young, chiefly by film and television, are told by outsiders who were dissatisfied and lit out for elsewhere to find happiness and good fortune.

"...I had spent my professional life writing newspaper columns, blog posts, and even a book, lamenting the loss of community and traditions in American life. I had a reputation as a pop theoretician of cultural decline, but in truth I was long on words, short on deeds. I did not like the fact that I saw my Louisiana family only three times a year, for a week at a time, if we were lucky. But that was the way of the world, right? Almost everyone I knew was in the same position. My friends and I talked a lot about the fragmentation of the modern family, about the deracinating effects of late capitalism, about mass media and the erosion of localist consciousness, about the consumerization of religion and the leviathan state and every other thing under the sun that undermines our sense of home and permanence.

"The one thing none of us did was what Ruthie did: Stay.

"Contemporary culture encourages us to make islands of ourselves for the sake of self-fulfillment, of career advancement, of entertainment, of diversion, and all the demands of the sovereign self. When suffering and death come for you--and it will--you want to be in a place where you know, and are known. You want--no you need--to be able to say, as Mike did, 'We're leaning, but we're leaning on each other.'

"...In the midst of marveling about the goodness of the townspeople, Julie and I wondered if we were romanticizing St. Francisville... A local friend had said to me, 'You have seen the town at its very best. You know, it's not always like this.'

"I knew St. Francisville's shortcomings. There is poverty. There is brokenness. There is drunkenness, and there are drugs. There is meanness, and conformity, and lack of professional opportunity. Of all the things that made me run from this place nearly three decades ago, most of them remain.

"But Ruthie transfigured this town in my eyes. Her suffering made me see the good that I couldn't see before. The same communal bonds that appeared to me as chains all those years ago had become my Louisiana family's lifelines. What I once saw through the melodramatic eyes of a teenager as prison bars were in fact the pillars that held my family up when it had no strength left to stand.

"We're leaning, but we're leaning on each other."

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