Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.
One of my favorite books in the Bible is the book of Ruth, not the least of which is because Ruth is my middle name. The Old Testament, to scholars and historians and theologians alike, is full of metaphor, mixed with historical fact. The Old Testament is filled with images, thoughts, ideas and stories of long ago. These books are debated in Rabbinical schools and Christian seminaries. The places mentioned are among the most popular digs for archeologists. The life lessons, and ethical teachings, are still prevalent today. And yet, it's the book of Ruth that speaks to me the most, out of all the Old Testament books. Why? Because, it speaks on the level of deep abiding friendship between women, a sense of undying loyalty and perserverence in the face of wretched adversity. It's not a complex theological idea that will take me a lifetime to wrap my head around. Rather, it's a lesson in how women could, and should, behave towards one another.
Ruth is an extraordinary woman. She leaves all she knows to join her husband's household. When he passes away, and when famine threatens the land, Ruth, and her sisters in law, are released from their mother in law, Naomi, to return to their own families, where they might find a better chance of food, shelter and future promise. But, Ruth refuses to leave her aging mother in law, and instead becomes the bread winner, quite literally, insistent upon honor and kindness and a shared burden. How many women would show this type of character today? Ruth's example of standing together to face hard times was unique in her own time, and it's unique today. Her example of selflessness and hard work for another person inspire me beyond measure.
Beginning in middle school, girls are often pitted against one another. They compete, they establish territories and they torment weaker ones with 'Mean Girl' tactics. Girls can be far worse bullies than boys....because the words and manipulation they inflict can last a lifetime. They spread rumors, they malign and they instigate fear. Sadly, this behavior can continue on until adulthood with some women vying for attention by making others around them "look badly" to their mutual friends. They are competitive, back biting and disloyal, at times. It would never occur to these girls (and women) that our bond as women, and as fellow human beings, should transcend jealousy, bitterness and hostility to make oneself feel better.
Thankfully, I've been blessed with wonderful women friends. Most of us are all around the country (and the world) these days. But, with help from the internet, I'm able to glean support, kindness and friendship in much the same way Ruth gleaned in the fields. If there is one harsh reality that I wish I could spare my own daughter, it's the pain that can be inflicted from other women. And yet, underneath the pain and throughout the lessons learned, other friendships can be formed that are lasting, true and free of competition. I don't believe we can fully appreciate the trueness of loyal friendship without feeling the sting of false.
Like Ruth, I hope to become a woman of unquestioned loyalty, hard work, kindness and commitment. I hope to show love when I'm afraid. I wish I could be as courageous, in the face of uncertainty, as she was. I hope I can pass these traits on to my daughter. I hope that she will know the kind, but more difficult, path will build character far deeper and much further reaching. It doesn't make hurt caused by other girls go away, but it does make you appreciate those who are loyal all the more.
And, I'm most definitely proud to be Ellen Ruth. I have some big shoes to fill.