When I rang her doorbell, after returning home from my voyages, it was the enigma who answered.
“We had begun to think you would never return,” she told me. We did not know each other well, but she knew of me, and I of her.
I could see, by the full sadness, hope, and mother bear protectiveness behind her eyes, that she had heard of me from two separate sources. One, from her step-daughter, whom she loved as her own heart’s blood; and two, from the village, which must have presented such overwhelming evidence against me that she cringed to have such a man stand on her doorstep.
“She’s been waiting for you.”
“I know,” I admitted, “but I’ve actually come to speak to you.”
“Really?” To my relief and surprise, her demeanor softened, and she let me in. “And to what do I owe this visit?”
“To Naomi, actually,” I laughed a little and the sound, even to my ears, came across as unhinged. I had pent myself up so tight for this encounter, and now, with her goodness and maturity daring me to meet it, I was swiftly coming unwound. “I’ve been reading the story of Ruth and Naomi, and I wanted to tell you about it.”
“I know the story,” she said calmly. “Please sit down.” She led me to a chair, actually guiding me as if I had been a child, and I realized how much of a wreck I must appear. I was indeed a wreck. After all those months of endless, unending sailing, coming in the end safe into port, I had been cast a wreck here, upon my own home shore, before the woman I most feared. And her kindness was undoing me faster.
“Why did Ruth love Naomi so much?” I demanded, my breath whooshing out as if I had been holding it since I left.
She smiled sweetly and gave me a cookie from a jar. Somehow, a cookie is better than an answer, and I slumped back in my chair, defeated.
“Why does anyone love anyone?” she turned my question against me. “Why did Boaz love Ruth?”
I did not have to think about the answer to that. It was written, as it had always been written, in my soul. “Because she completed him. He couldn’t help it. And if someone else was better for her, he would have accepted that. If she had been better off with Naomi, alone…” I paused. I was not Boaz. I was not a man of integrity. Had Boaz been me, then Ruth might very well have been better off without him. “He would have let her alone. He wanted what was best for her.”
She stood up and went to the window. I finished the cookie. “When my husband died,” she said, “he left a part of him behind, and that part has become more precious to me than anything else. She is like my own daughter, and I love her so much my heart aches. I couldn’t give her up to someone who loved her less than that. But I can see that your love for her tortures you. And it should! And I am not jealous in my love. Naomi always wanted what was best for Ruth, you know. How can I want anything less? I only feared you were not worthy.”
“You weren’t. You were a proud man, and vain. You were just a boy. I wanted you never to return, because maybe then she would be spared the pain of learning that you could never change.”
My heart was breaking and I sat broken before her, bent beneath the burden of her blame. I accepted the chastisement. But then I felt her hand on my arm, and I stood quickly, eager to show her I was not a wreck anymore. That I could stand tall, even in adversity. That I could be a good man, no matter the reward or loss. I wanted her motherly eyes, the kind of eyes I had not seen in many, many years, to look on me with pride and approval.
And they did. Blown away, I saw that they sparkled with new love. Her look, if I dared believe it, told me she had found a son as well as a daughter.
“You have changed,” she said, confirming what I feared to hope. “Go to her.”
With her confidence and love behind me, with my new self within me, and with my everything before me, I went out into the garden to find my Ruth.
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