Across the shifting sea I have voyage, to far ports and distant shores. I left not to forget, but to remember. To remember the way I was as a child, not the way I have grown to be a man.
I wrote her a letter and sent it on the first ship we crossed. Brief, I told her my intent, and left it at that. To find myself. To learn to love. To remember.
After a year of port to port, island to island, praying to God at night and rising for her in the morning, we arrived at the small Caribbean Island called Eye of the Mother. Named so for the pile of rocks that crests the topmost cliff, a stone chipped statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary resides at the top. Her arms, poised as if waiting to rise to her maker, are spread wide toward the earth, and her gaze is bent to the wide island vista.
I acquire permission from the captain and climb the crumbling stone path that leads with crude steps to the foot of her shrine. Breathing hard from the climb and sweating in the cold breeze that bites into my bones, I kneel in awe to contemplate her face.
But soon, I grow nervous. Her innocence is not that of inexperience, and I cannot hold my own beneath it. Flustered, I shift my gaze to one of her fingers.
It is pointing to the earth, and idly curious, wanting to escape her eyes, but finding comfort somehow in her presence, I investigate as an excuse to stay. Beneath her finger is an orange patch of dirt – molding clay. Suddenly inspired, I dig with my fingers and take out fistfuls. I pour my water bottle into my hand, and with the mixture began to shape and mold.
Presently, I know not how long my task has engrossed me, I find a child sitting on the cairn of rocks above me and contemplating my actions with wide eyes. Delicate pale wisps flutter around her face, stirred delicately by the breeze.
“What are you making?”
I glance down at the sculpture in my hands. A woman. It isn’t her, like I thought it would be; nor my mother, which might have made sense; not even a replica of the Virgin that stands above my head. I hand it over to the child, who takes it with her tiny hands and looks it all over.
“I’m in love with my best friend, you see,” I tell her. “I’ve always wanted to love her, but I don’t really know how, so mostly I’ve just wanted her to love me. But she told me a story – a story about why she refuses to love me…”
“What was the story?”
I have poured over the book of Ruth ever since setting sail, and I know it now by heart. “Once upon a time, a girl named Ruth married a handsome man named Elimelek–”
The little girl erupts into giggles. “That’s a funny name!”
I smile at her. “Yes, I suppose it is. Well, Elimelek had a mother named Naomi who was a very wonderful and holy woman. But soon, Elimelek died and Ruth was a widow. Ruth now had nothing to do with Naomi, no connection to her, you see, but the girl didn’t see it that way. Instead of drifting away from her, Ruth clung even closer and chose to love Naomi more than anyone else, even more than her friends and relatives.”
I blink. “I don’t know. I guess they were both lonely – they needed each other. Anyway, because Ruth loved Naomi so much, she was able to meet the love of her life and marry him in the end of the story.”
I laugh so hard tears come into my eyes. “No, he died remember? The new guy was named Boaz.”
“They all have funny names!” she laughs. “Are you Boaz?”
“Sort of. I – I hope so.”
She sticks out the sculpture at me, now deformed beyond recognition by the fondling of her tiny fingers. “And she is Ruth, the girl you love?”
I sigh deeply. “Actually, no. She is a woman I don’t understand. The woman Ruth loves. She’s Naomi.”
The girl wrinkles her face at the sculpture, confused and dissatisfied with my tale. “Are you going to marry Ruth?”
I am too confused. And now, standing at the foot of a mother, I am too afraid. There is too much symbolism. I have opened my heart to love, and find only symbols. The little girl before me seems to represent my friend as a child, and the Blessed Virgin is her new mother. One is too young, and the other – too old. One too bereft of experience, the other loaded with too much. If I dare to presume to ask for her hand, would innocence repel me? Would experience condemn me? I fear it.
“You should marry her,” she finally pronounces when I am silent too long. She declares it confidently. “Naomi wants Ruth to be happy…. Right?”