Confused, nervous, uncertain and scared, I ring her doorbell and it is the enigma who answers.
“We had begun to think you would never return,” she says to me.
We do not know each other, but I know of her, and she of me. I know she is a rare woman of true virtue, deep love, and profound penetration. I know that the one I love more than anyone loves her more than she loves me, and I have learned to accept that. I can see, by the full sadness, hope, and mother-bear protectiveness behind her eyes, that she had heard of me from two sources. One from her step-daughter, whom she loves as her own heart’s blood; and two from the village, which has presented such overwhelming evidence against me that she cringes to have such a man stand on her doorstep.
“She’s been waiting for you.”
“I know,” I admit, “but I’ve actually come to speak to you.”
“Really?” To my relief and surprise, her demeanor softens, and she lets me in. “And to what do I owe this honor?”
“To Naomi, actually,” I laugh a little and the sound, even to my ears, comes across as unhinged. I have pent myself up so tight for this encounter, and now, with her goodness and maturity daring me to meet it, I am 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 says calmly. “Please sit down.” She leads me to a chair, actually guiding me as if I am a child, and I realize how much of a wreck I must appear. I am a wreck. After all the months of endless, unending tossing upon waves of deadly force, coming in the end safe into port, I have been cast a wreck here, upon my own home shore, before the woman I most fear. And her kindness is fast undoing me.
“Why did Ruth love Naomi so much?” I demand, my breath whooshing out as if I have been holding it since I left.
She smiles sweetly and gives me a cookie from a jar. Somehow, a cookie is better than an answer, and I slump back in my chair, defeated.
“Why does anyone love anyone?” she turns my question against me. “Why did Boaz love Ruth?”
I do not have to think about the answer to that. It is written, as it has 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 stands up and goes to the window; I watch her carefully and finish the cookie. “When my husband died,” she says, “he left a part of him behind, and that part has become more precious to me than anything ever has. 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. How could I? Not willingly.
“I can see that your love for her tortures you. And it should! You are a man with a past more terrible than she can yet understand – she is too young and innocent to really know the ways of the world. You can lay it all out in a list and you can warn her all you like, but in the end, she will not really know until she marries you. That is the way for every girl.
“I am not jealous in my love, you know. Naomi always wanted what was best for Ruth, and how can I want anything less? I have only feared you were not worthy of her.”
“You were a proud man, and vain; a villain who stole from other women when you should have waited for her. And 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 is breaking and I sit broken before her, bent beneath the burden of her blame, but I accept the chastisement. If she is better off without me, then I will accept it. I left to see if I could change, and I had fooled myself into thinking that reflection was action. I have proved nothing. I have not changed enough.
Suddenly, I feel her warm hand on my arm, and I stand quickly, eager to show her I am not a wreck anymore. That I can stand tall, even in adversity. That I can be a good man, no matter the reward or loss. I want her motherly eyes, the kind of eyes I have not seen in many, many years, to look on me with pride and approval.
And they do. Blown away, I see that they sparkle with new love. Her look, if I dare believe it, tells me she has found a son as well as a daughter.
“You have changed,” she whispers, filling me with hope anew, and smiling with the eyes of a mother. “Go to her.”
With her confidence and love behind me, with my new self within me, and with my everything before me, I go out into the garden to find my Ruth.
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