"The Little Way of Ruthie Leming", by Rod Dreher, is a beautiful story of his sister Ruthie’s living despite cancer and her death due to cancer. Even as Ruthie's body was dying, God was working a powerful act of healing...in the family...in relationships...in Rod.
While it is heartbreaking that a young woman can die of lung cancer at 42, it speaks again the eternal truth: It is not the length of a life that impacts the world. It is the quality of life that will make the world a better place, maybe not in a global sense, but in personal lives of the ones who know and are touched by that goodness. That is the kind of life Ruthie lived, and in the lives she touched, she lives on.
But this book is more than a soft-hearted remembrance of a sister, wife, daughter, friend taken too soon. It holds in its pages another eternal truth: family is complicated.
Rod talks openly about the confusion and pain that comes when a family loves each other but doesn’t always like each other and courageously lays open the reality that some pain we experience at the hands of other people is not only made possible—but caused—by the tools we give them. He embraces the truth so many of us run from and trip over: sometimes people don’t like us because we give them reason to dislike us, and instead of being confused by their dislike, we should wonder how they love us at all. And too often, it is our family we give reason to dislike us the most.
While the battles run amuck on the outside, they rage on the inside. If one person’s life means so much, is a life so different just as valid? Was truth missed and time wasted? Or are both stories—and both lives—valid in their own piece of life’s puzzle? Could it be that there is no right or wrong story because truly the story isn’t about the person but the God who somehow takes all the stories and redeems them to make His story?
And really, ultimately, this is what “The Little Way of Ruth Leming” is.
It is the story of forgiveness and being forgivable, the need for redemption, and the power of presence. It is a story of the killing power of guilt and the life giving power of sacrifice. It is the story of valuing the right things and the right people and understanding how valuable you are.
Yes, it is the story of a small town girl who lived a life of great impact in her own small way and a writer who questioned whether his “big life” among the intellectually aware and societal elite had any eternal impact at all. More than that, though, it is God’s story, how He takes lives down different paths, dips them in joy and wrinkles them with pain, and weaves them together. It is the story of small town folk and a big city writer stumbling through the pain of life and death and into the blessed truth that the secret to a good life is not the life path you choose to walk but the love you give—and accept—while you walk it.