I learned over the weekend about the death of Ruthie Leming, a 42-year-old schoolteacher in St. Francisville, LA. Two years ago, she received a diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer. Because she had never smoked, by the time the cancer became detectable it had already spread to her brain, bones and adrenal gland. I never met Ruthie but, at one time, I worked with her brother, the conservative commentator and blogger Rod Dreher. One thing I've long admired about Rod is his searing honesty and his intense pursuit of meaning. As he blogged about his sister's death and her community's support throughout her ordeal, Rod delved deeper into meaning than I could have imagined. I commend his blogs about Ruthie's death, beginning here. When you finish the entry, scroll down past hundreds of comments to advance to the next entry, and so on. But be prepared. Get some tissue and settle into a quiet place. You'll be deeply moved by the enormity of his heart. After Ruthie's diagnosis, Rod blogged extensively about his sister, and she told him how much it meant to her that so many people read about her and prayed for her. In death, as in life, Rod has become his sister's keeper, albeit through the art of storytelling. Believe me, you won't regret spending time getting to know Ruthie. You may not agree with Rod's politics, but you can't deny the depth of devotion to his sister. I was so profoundly touched that I even reached out to my own sister, long estranged, and I am eager to hear her response.The Little Way of Love
Throughout his posts, Rod goes to great lengths to compare his sister to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a 19th-century Carmelite nun known for the depth and simplicity of her spirituality. As a cloistered nun, Thérèse didn't have the opportunity to perform great deeds, so she built her spirituality on performing small deeds of virtue with a heart full of love. Ruthie was like St. Thérèse, Rod says, because "Thérèse loved simplicity, and disdained the false, flowery piety that folks ladled like syrup over the lives of the saints." His down-to-earth sister's life of ordinary goodness was made extraordinary by her deeds of pure love, which were so often an inspiration to others.I had the opportunity to learn about Thérèse during an internship I did at a church under her patronage. In the same way that I've come to know about Ruthie because of what others have said about her, I came to know Thérèse through her own words and the words of others. It strikes me that what distinguishes people like Thérèse of Lisieux and Ruthie Leming isn't so much their purity or perfection but their utter authenticity. Both women were authentically human. In her lifetime, Thérèse believed in keeping it real. After her death, her family took control of her image and promoted something entirely different to the world: an abstract ideal of pure love rather than an imperfect person in need of love.Imperfect Love
Psychologist Eugene Kennedy, speaking after the 9/11 attacks, said people who are perfect have no need for love, "for there would be no gaps for its electrical charge to spin.""There would be no work for love to do," Kennedy continued, "no growth to nourish, no faults to forgive, no wounds to heal or, worst of all, no tears to dry. Nor would there be any need for faith or hope. For making ourselves vulnerable through the investments of ourselves--and these investments can only be made in the currency of imperfection, these investments we make in a hundred barely noticeable ways every day--in believing and in trusting others." Rod describes Ruthie as someone who made herself vulnerable by investing herself in the lives of others, which may account for the enormous outpouring of love and support for her family from her community and, through Rod's blog, from around the world.