“This is all I need,” said Ruth, as she sat next to the campfire, curled up in a camping chair. I could see only her smiling face peeking out of the heavy comforter that enveloped her entire body. She just sat under the stars listening to the crackling fire, Jen’s laughter, and my attempt at playing guitar.
It wasn’t the first time I heard Ruth say that though. Months earlier we were sitting by a stream off the back side of the Bartlett Dam and again, music, laughter, a fire…and Ruth was completely content sitting in a camping chair, leaning back, covered with a blanket, eyes closed, but taking in all of the world. Her face said it all; she was content with life. Ruth never complained about being ‘dealt a bad card’ in life. There was no dealer, no cards, and there were no chips on the table. To her, life was made every moment, and she had simply decided to make every moment count. She laughed whenever she could, she made people feel special, and her peacefulness allowed me to find my peacefulness and to see how simple it could be.
When I was in middle school, I used to spent hours, even days, hanging out at her house with my best friend Paul, her son. I only knew that she was like my mom away from home. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when Ruth began her battle with cancer and spent a year in Arizona that I really got to know her. When Jenny, her daughter, told me she was coming out for a year to get treatment at the Mayo Clinic, I was excited to show her around Arizona and help her find peace through nature experiences. Ironically, it was Ruth that led me to find peace.
Having my own mom fight her battle with cancer years before allowed me to understand what Ruth, Jenny and family were going through, but this was more intense. Jenny kept me informed of her mom’s progress over the last year but it wasn’t until I was in Kauai a month ago and Jenny emailed saying that Ruth had really taken a turn for the worse that I got a sinking feeling in my gut. For some reason that’s when it hit me. I felt a tug. I wanted to be there to support Jenny and Paul and just to say goodbye to Ruth. I felt a sadness knowing that I wouldn’t be able to make it back in time, considering I hadn’t planned on returning to Chicago until early 2011. Soon after, I got a call saying my mom was in the emergency room and was having her gallbladder removed. I was on a plane a day later heading to Phoenix and a day after that landing in Chicago to be with my mom. As soon as my mom was feeling better, I jumped in the car and drove an hour to Lake Geneva to see Ruth and family. Had my mom not recovered so quickly, I would have waited one more day to visit Ruth. When I walked in, Jenny told me that my timing was incredible because mom was probably going to be gone in a couple of hours. She was wrong; Ruth passed within twenty minutes. I wasn’t able to tell Ruth what an amazing person she was, not because she was unconscious, but because I couldn’t speak. Jenny did the talking and told Ruth I was there. I could only hold her hand and hope that thoughts transcend this material world, for in my mind I told Ruth everything I needed to tell her.
I still don’t know why I was there amongst her immediate family but I feel blessed for the opportunity. It seems insane that only a few days prior I had been four thousand miles away and that somehow I had made it for the last twenty minutes of her time on this earth.
I believe things happen exactly when they should happen, but many times I have a hard time accepting. I tend to immediately judge and event as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ instead of waiting for an answer. We are all just energy bouncing around and sometimes things that happen to us have nothing to do with us. Sometimes we are the catalyst for someone thing else to happen. I’m sure my mom’s surgery happened simply to allow me to see Ruth. My faith in synchronistic events has been strengthened because of this incident and is has allowed me to once again find peace in everything that does happen. Because of Ruth, I am one step closer to reaching that state where I can say, “This is all I need.”