What a terrific kick-off to the Little Way Of Ruthie Leming tour I had Tuesday night in New York City. Many, many thanks to Eric Metaxas and the crew at Socrates In The City for hosting me tonight at the Union League Club. It was a sold-out house, and the audience couldn’t have been more enthusiastic and welcoming. I saw old friends from NYC and Dallas in the crowd, and met a couple of this blog’s readers, and even met Loy Ann and Michael (pictured), New Yorkers who were born and raised in St. Francisville, and who, get this, were Ruthie’s students. Isn’t that awesome that they came tonight? I was so touched. Loy Ann said she remembered the year she was in Ruthie’s class, how my mom made Christmas stockings for each and every child. Typical Mam, always giving to children.
This was the first stop on the road for the tour — and let me apologize to you blog readers for all the Little Way posting, but this book and this tour are pretty much consuming my life and my imagination right now, and I have no time to read or focus on the news, though maybe I will be able to on Wednesday. One thing I observed tonight is something that I’ve lost focus on, simply because I’ve been living with this narrative for so long: the raw power of this story. People gasped audibly when they heard me talking tonight on stage with Eric about some of the things that happened, and that I recount in the book. Many people cried; some cried a lot. I talked about the deep joy in Ruthie’s life, and the redemption she believed in, and that was offered — is offered — to all of us. It’s a sad story in many ways, of course, but it’s also a story of hope, and release. I also appreciated very, very much hearing people come up to me and thank me for not sugar-coating Ruthie’s story, and talking frankly about the tension between the two of us. As one of the audience members said to me tonight after the program, “You were talking about how life really is. That makes the story so much more powerful.”
Along those lines, I was gratified by this new Amazon.com review by a reader called J. Morris. I do worry that some readers may be expecting a neat, tidy, Hollywood happy ending, and will be disappointed when they discover that the book is about beauty, and truth, and endurance, but it is also about limits, and brokenness, and misunderstanding. J. Morris thinks that makes the book stronger:
I had an entire afternoon’s plans knocked entirely askew when I took a break to read one chapter and ended up reading the entire book. I was blessed by Rod Dreher’s Starhill story of family, relationships, journeys, and faith. It touched a myriad of my identities, from child to parent, friend to sibling, and searching-for-answers to faith-in-God Christian.
“Little Way” is the story of an extraordinary ordinary woman – a daughter, wife, mother, sister, friend, and teacher, not beatified, but clearly defined – who is taken by vicious, aggressive cancer at too young an age. But it is far more than that, too. If not, it would be just another story, and this is well beyond “just another story.” It reveals the spirit of true community, which is sadly too rare these days. It examines perspectives of faith, family, adolescence, aspirations, and how those things are, from one person to the next, as fingerprints, even to the point of being similar at a glance but profoundly different in reality. And it is a deeply personal journey for the author and his family; none of the bumps and questions through the journey seem to be softened to make things easier for those who traveled it. It is an authentic, true grit travelogue of that journey, not maudlin, not idealized, but hitting a harmonic chord of truth. It leaves the reader wondering how a person finds that place in himself to work up the guts to lay it all out there for his whole world and THE whole world to discover. The author examines his relationship with his younger sister very soon after her passing, but he also digs into other relationships, not the least being the one with his father. And what brave parents to leave those raw wounds of the loss of their child open in order to bring the world a story many would not have believed could be true, to permit the local legacy of their daughter to grow beyond the bounds of West Feliciana Parish and stretch across the world, allowing Ruthie to teach people forever.
We have all been in at least one relationship, whether by blood, marriage, or friendship, that will be illuminated in our hearts when reading this book. If you have always loved God, given up on God, or are trying to find your way back to God, you need to read this. If you have escaped the shackles of your history or have joyfully embraced them, you need to read this. If you want to learn from mistakes instead of repeating them, you need to read this. Who shouldn’t read this? Anyone who doesn’t want his heart touched and, quite possibly, his life changed for the better.
If you’ve read Little Way and likes it, please share it with your friends and family. I had to laugh tonight, thinking of how put off Ruthie would have been by the idea that there was a big meeting at a fancy club in New York City, all about her, but you know, I love talking about her, and telling people what an amazing, heroic, big-hearted, hilarious, saintly, awe-inspiring pain in the ass that Louisiana country girl Ruthie Leming was. You read the book, and if I’ve done my job, you will feel the same way.