A reader of The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming wrote me a moving letter last night, saying that he rarely reads books, but this one got to him in a big way. His brother died of cancer a few years ago, and he’s struggled since then with his faith because of it. A church conference helped put him back on track. And now, so has Little Way:
I read the book In 3 nights and the book just made me realize (actually reaffirmed) that I took what happened to [my brother] all wrong!! I’m not a crier, at all, actually far from it! The message was so powerful to me, I actually couldn’t swallow or talk several times.
I am so glad I read it, and it just reaffirmed my faith in Jesus and God’s plan! I experienced a spiritual high that I needed and haven’t experienced [for years].
I said it before and I’ll say it again: experiences and testimonials like this are what confirm to me Ruthie’s confidence that whatever happened to her, God was going to bring good out of it. Thinking back on the 11 days I spent on the road, meeting people in bookstores and talking to them about Ruthie’s story, I remain deeply affected by hearing stories like the one the Little Way reader sent to me last night. So many people carry such pain and brokenness inside. It’s a cliché now, but that quote about how you ought to be kind to people because everyone is fighting a great battle — I know better how truthful it is after having written this book (or, to be precise, after having gone on the road to talk about it, and to hear the stories of others). Everybody hurts. It’s the most ordinary thing in the world, but it’s not ordinary at all when a perfect stranger stands in front of you crying because they haven’t spoken to their sister in years, or they lost their mother to cancer and worry that they’ll never feel okay again. Can you help? Do you know something that might?
An older journalist of my acquaintance, someone who has been in the thick of various controversies over the years, once said, world-wearily, “Sometimes you just want to do nothing more than go to the party and be nice to people.” True. Ruthie’s story is not about just going to the party and being nice to people — there’s too much profundity and suffering for something so light — but in a way, it is about just that. It’s about how living an ordinary life of faithful presence, of finding joy in the ordinary, and of being kind and loving to others, can amount to a life of hidden greatness and wonder. I thought of Ruthie and our little Southern town last night when I read Terry Teachout’s Wall Street Journal review of Horton Foote’s A Trip To Bountiful, now in revival. This lede stood out:
Horton Foote’s “The Trip to Bountiful” is one of the half-dozen greatest American plays, yet its greatness has yet to be generally acknowledged. The reasons why aren’t hard to grasp. Like all of Foote’s plays, it’s a soft-spoken character study, the tale of a tired old woman from Texas who hasn’t seen her hometown in 20 years, longs to do so once more before she dies, and decides one day to go there. Nothing else happens, nor do the characters say anything especially memorable. They merely show you how ordinary people live their lives. The poetry—and “The Trip to Bountiful” is profoundly poetic—is between the lines. Yet no one with a receptive soul can fail to appreciate the play’s myriad beauties, and Michael Wilson’s new revival, in which Cicely Tyson returns to Broadway for the first time since 1983, is unforgettably excellent. I’ve never been more deeply moved by a theatrical production of any kind.
We have theology, and we have psychology, and we have philosophy, and we have, for some, Jack Daniels. But nothing quite works like stories.