Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

Ruthie’s wonderful life

“How do you write about what happened tonight?” my father asked me just now. “All those people, they all came out for your sister. She’s touched so many people, honey.”


Then he started to cry, and so did I, because that’s what you do after a night like this. So full of love and grace and generosity. A young man — well, not so young anymore, because none of us are — who was in my sister’s high school class told me just before I left the show, “You see Ruthie, you tell her I love her. You tell her that. Because I do.”They all do. Hundreds of them. In fact, at least one thousand, according to the gate receipts. They kept coming, the people. Somebody said tonight, “Everybody’s house is going to get broken into, because nobody in the whole parish is home tonight.” Nope, they were all there for Ruthie.Tonight at the show, Ruthie recorded a short thank-you for all of you kind readers of this blog, for whose prayers she is grateful. Her voice is breathy, and the crowd is loud, but here she is.Our folksinger cousin Emily Branton had started playing early in the evening when Ruthie and Mike walked in. A cheer went up from the crowd, and Ruthie ducked her head and covered her face, emotionally overwhelmed. She sat down near the front and started receiving well-wishers. Before long, Emily played Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl,” which is Ruthie and Mike’s song. Ruthie, who struggles to breathe, nevertheless got up and danced with Mike — with our mom and dad dancing beside them:It was so good to see my folks having such a great time tonight, considering the burden they’ve been under. It was astonishing to see people coming in from all over. The three girls who grew up next door to us all came in — two from north Louisiana, one from Memphis. What a treat! I spoke to a reader of this blog who drove in with her husband from Houston. They used to live in town, and Ruthie taught their kids. “We love her so much,” she said. “She has given our family so much. We couldn’t not be here.”I kept hearing this, over and over, all night long. We had to be here.I’d gotten to spend about half an hour with Ruthie earlier in the afternoon, after I got here. Yes, she looks rough from all the chemo, but her spirit was so admirably strong.”Wow, you look like shit,” I said to her.”Yep, it’s the look of cancer,” she said, snickering.That’s the kind of relationship we have. Oh, I loved being with her, though I had to go because she was having so much trouble breathing, and coughing, and I wanted her to rest. Who wasn’t at the concert tonight? So many of Mike’s buddies from the fire department were there. Most of my extended family were there, as were most of our neighbors. I saw so many people I’d been in school with many years ago; it was like old home week. Hundreds of people came up to Ruthie, greeting her, telling her they loved her. The food sold out quickly, and they had to make a second beer run, at least. I was talking to the ladies selling tickets for the beer and the food, and a stranger stopped by and gave them $100 for Ruthie.”That’s been happening a lot tonight,” one said.David Morgan, our friend who grew up across the road from Ruthie and me, took the stage with his band after Emily finished her set. Here they are setting the tone for a Louisiana Saturday night:Later, David tee-hee’d Your Working Boy and his blogging from the stage while singing the greatest country song of all time. I damnsure knew the words, but if I could sing a lick, I’d have jumped on the stage and let ‘er rip. Fortunately for all concerned, I hadn’t had too many Abitas, and resisted the urge. Tonight there was dancing, and merry-making, and beer-drinking, and the kind of pleasure there has been too little of since cancer came into my family’s life on February 22. You stood there and looked at all the people, and realized they were there because of Ruthie, and the kind of woman she is, and always has been. She is not alone. A friend of hers and Mike’s brought a camper trailer to the barn tonight, to give Ruthie a place to go rest and take oxygen, which she’s been on since seeing her oncologist this week. Folks are so thoughtful. Daddy looked in on her before I drove him and Mama home, and there was Dr. Tim Lindsey, kneeling down beside Ruthie, explaining in that gentle way of his what’s going on with her body now. And her dear friend Abby Temple was right there with her. They raised $15,000 from ticket sales, and a lot more from the concessions (though there’s no final figure), and who knows what else from all the extra money people gave. Mama saw a lady there whose children Ruthie once taught, and who Mama knows has no money to give. But she sure came, and she sure gave. Emily and David and his band, and the organizers, and the folks who donated food, and Amanda Temple, who designed the t-shirts, and everybody who put this show together, and all those who came — how on earth can we possibly thank them all? On the drive home, Daddy kept saying, “It’s overwhelming … all those people … all for her.” Ruthie is only 40 years old, and she’s already lived a life so filled with kindness and service to others that so many folks around here have taken her into their hearts. For me, the most touching tributes I heard to my sister tonight was from people whose children she taught in school, and who wanted to be there tonight to say thank you for being so good to my child. This is the difference a teacher can make in a family’s life. And tonight was the difference those families can make in a teacher’s life.”This is how it’s supposed to be,” someone said to me tonight, looking out over the crowd. “This is what folks are supposed to do for each other. And look, we’re doing it.” Yes indeed. I don’t know that just anybody would have gotten this kind of honor from the people of her town. Ruthie has been such a part of this place, and so kind and giving for so many years. Tonight was kind of an “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment for her, in which her friends and neighbors could show up to lend their support and show their love and appreciation for all she is, and all she has been. It’s so beautiful to see that it’s almost painful, and so unreal in its generosity that you think it must have been a movie.I told a friend tonight that if this cancer takes our Ruthie, she can go to her God knowing that Mike and the girls will be taken care of. The whole town’s got her back. The whole town! Can you imagine? You invest your life in a place like this, and look what comes of it. Back home late tonight, Mama said, through tears, “I’ve never been prouder of this town.” This town is St. Francisville, Louisiana. This is where my people live. This is home.

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Charles Curtis

posted April 11, 2010 at 3:19 am

Rod, I’m sitting up here, a slightly sauced insomniac, thinking about all the crap of the past ten years and preparing to make my confession for Mercy Sunday.
I just want to thank you for your exhibitionism, for laying it out like you do. It’s your vocation, man. Thank you for keeping it.
I’m praying for Ruthie and your family tonight, my friend. God bless you all. My dad calls me honey, too.

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posted April 11, 2010 at 3:48 am

Look, its really great that the town came out etc. I hope your sister beats this thing, I really do
I am puzzled, however. as to why this money needs to be raised. Does Louisiana not have medical coverage for its teachers? How about the husband — a national guard guy and a fireman. Surely there is some kind of major medical going on there — and, ojalá que no — a pretty good life insurance plan. I know this is crass, but why the heck does money need to be raised — and would not the answer to that lead into bigger policy questions.
[Note from Rod: Ruthie does have good insurance — thank God she bought an extra cancer policy a couple of years ago — but with a disease as serious as the one she has, and with treatment as aggressive as she’s receiving, the expenses are enormous. Yeah, and the policy questions are pretty big too. — RD]

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posted April 11, 2010 at 8:09 am

What a wonderful event, and an even more wonderful uplifting of your sister and your entire family. I want to echo Mr. Curtis’ words and thank you for “laying it out”. These accounts of the wonderful love that is surrounding your sister and her family are amazing, and a much needed reminder of how good people can be if they just make the effort.

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posted April 11, 2010 at 9:01 am

How wonderful. Praise God for those people!

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posted April 11, 2010 at 10:30 am

Glad it was such a powerful time for all involved, and I (we) appreciate you writing about such things very much. Be assured many of us continue to pray for her, and for you.

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posted April 11, 2010 at 10:39 am

I am very sad for what Ruthie and her family are going through. She sounds like a wonderful person, and I hope with all my heart that she gets better and has a long and happy life ahead of her.
Something else has been bothering me all through these posts, though. I don’t know how to put it in a way that is guaranteed not to offend, so I’m just going to put it out here. Somewhere in America, possibly even in St. Francisville, LA, there’s an old fat woman who is not particularly attractive, living in a dilapidated trailer. She smokes, drinks, and cusses, and hasn’t been to church in years. Her son is an ex-con and her daughter works on and off as a stripper, in between other low-paid jobs. This woman has the same illness as Ruthie. Her kids (and her daughter’s two children by different fathers) love her, and they are desperate right now. Their mom is gasping her life out in pain. They have no money and they have no insurance, and they can’t get a specialist to see her. They can’t get top of the line medical treatment for her. They can’t even get ordinary decent nursing care.
Nobody will be holding a fundraiser for this woman, because she just isn’t special enough. She has failed to make herself a saint in the eyes of her community. She is disposable. This bothers me. Nobody should be disposable. I don’t think you should have to prove yourself a saint just to be treated with some human compassion. The dark side of the stories about specialness and saintliness is that most of us are judged by those standards and found wanting. Imagine how it feels to be suffering all that Ruthie is suffering, but with the added knowledge, deep down in your heart, that your whole world has decided you just aren’t worth it. As much as Jesus may love the saints, he didn’t come for them. He came for those the world considers to be no damn good. I would like it if the outpouring of love for people like Ruthie could trickle down to a few of the ones who get nothing because they aren’t good enough.
I realize that when people are feeling a lot of emotion, they don’t want to be lectured, and I apologize if this comes off like a lecture. The topic evokes strong feelings, and this is one of mine.

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Rod Dreher

posted April 11, 2010 at 11:14 am

Well … yeah, but so what? I was talking with several of my cousins last night before the show, and we laughed that none of us are the kind of people who would inspire people to throw a benefit concert for us. We were joking about it, but we were serious, too. Ruthie is by no means “saintly” in the sense of being an ethereal figure, floating through the town like a fairy with a magic wand, alighting on people’s shoulders and doing good. She’s been so ordinary in her way of life, but the cumulative effect of all the everyday kindness she’s shown to people along the way is to create in people this kind of love for her. The lesson I have taken, and keep taking, from the love everyone is showing to her (and to her husband and kids) is Lennonesque: the love you take is equal to the love you make. Seriously, nobody should have to face what Ruthie’s facing alone, as in your scenario. Nobody should. But it happens all the time, and rather than lament that we cannot surround every single person with that kind of love and care (though we could all do it more than we do, no doubt), it might profit us to think about what it is about the life my sister has led that brings her such riches in her time of maximum poverty, so to speak.
It’s not hard to live at peace with your neighbors, and in abiding, loving service to them. But so few of us manage it. I know I don’t. My sister has done this. That’s why they love her. That she is embarrassed by all this, insists she doesn’t deserve it, and would probably agree with your post, Sig (in fact, she told her pastor that she wouldn’t agree to a church fundraiser for her unless everyone on the church’s prayer list for cancer was included) — anyway, the fact that she’s so humble about all this says a lot about why people are so motivated to do for her.
I dunno, why is it so hard to be grateful for outpourings of compassion and grace when they do occur in our communities, instead of trashing them because they don’t happen all the time? Does moral egalitarianism demand that if not every sick person can be given a fundraiser by her community, we have no right to be grateful that one sick woman was?

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posted April 11, 2010 at 11:20 am

Awesome story, Rod. Just awesome.
BTW, stari_momak, as a person living with cancer, I can tell you that even when you have good insurance, it’s still a very expensive illness. There are a lot of copays, and stuff which isn’t covered by one’s policy.

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Your Name

posted April 11, 2010 at 11:30 am

I think Sigaliris is merely suggesting, if you boil this down, that everyone in this country (as is the case in the entire rest of the industrialized world) should have access to medical care for such a catastrophic illness even if they don’t have any money, and even if no one loves them enough to throw a fund-raiser.
I think everyone is glad that Rod’s sister has these resources, and she doubtless deserves them. But, is adequate medical care really only for the “deserving”? Ugly, dysfunctional poor people don’t get any? And who decides who’s ugly enough to be left out?
I don’t know what Rod’s sister’s family needs this money for. Undoubtedly it will be put to good use. But if it’s necessary to ensure that she gets good medical care, if that’s what this is all about, this fundraiser should not have been necessary in the first place. That’s what people like me, who want to see real reform of our system, are working for.

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Lou and Lynn Kendrick

posted April 11, 2010 at 11:38 am

Thank you so very much for posting the videos of Saturday evening. Although we were unable to attend it allowed us to see Ruthie, Mike, Dot and Ray and that was a wonderful thing. Our prayers continue to be with y’all.

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posted April 11, 2010 at 11:46 am

Hey now, where did I engage in “trashing” this event? I think it was amazing. I certainly did not mean to suggest one shouldn’t be grateful for this event, which sounds as if it brought all kinds of blessings of community to the people involved, as well as being good for Ruthie and her family. And your point about how Ruthie would demur from having sainthood conferred on her occurred to me, too. She doesn’t sound at all the kind of person who would claim anything for herself, and her words as quoted by you prove her sense of fairness and humility. I AM grateful for outpourings of compassion and grace, wherever they occur. And naturally, you love your own sister more than other people, and that’s as it should be.
I rather resent your implication that I’m a “moral egalitarian,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. But I guess if it means that I believe we owe it to others, and ourselves, to treat every human being with the same basic decency, then okay–guilty as charged. I can’t see how that makes me any different from what your Church(es) have taught. It seems to me that we’re supposed to treat people with compassion and grace, not because we’ve assessed them and found them worthy, but because it’s the right thing to do. Am I hugely out of line in suggesting that? Perhaps I was just wrong to bring up larger considerations. This is a very personal post, I know, and maybe I should have left it that way. I’ll bow out here and let the discussion return to the status quo ante. Best wishes to you and your family.

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posted April 11, 2010 at 12:55 pm

God bless you all and good luck to Ruthie and her family. We’re saying our prayers for you and hope for the very best.

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posted April 11, 2010 at 1:37 pm

congratulations rod, to yourself and your sister and her loved ones.
what a remarkable act of rebellion!
in the midst of sadness and uncertainty, y’all stood up, busted out, and beat that damn thing!
against all odds, with joy and love and fraternity, y’all beat that damn thing last night.
and like they say after any great victory; ‘no matter what happens from now on, that’s something that can never be taken away’.

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posted April 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Your Name at 11:30,
As others have pointed out, even “good” insurance has gaping holes in it these days. One of the startling facts about bankruptcy is that many people who have been driven to it from medical crises were nonetheless well-insured. Co-pays mount up quickly, and those “out of pocket limits” most policies tout are borderline fraudulent since in fact one is exposed to far higher costs than they suggest. My niece had a difficult birth last year– the baby was hospitalized for two weeks afterward. Her health insurance had an out of pocket limit of 5K– yeah, right! She and her husband ended up 11K in the hole. The ACA tackles some of this (no more lifetime caps at least) but probably not all of it.
Anyway I too am glad last night went so well, and I continue to pray for Ruthie and all her family (you too, Rod) in and out of church.

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posted April 11, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Hey Rod,
A lot a special people put on a great event with a lot of hard work and sacrifice. So many contributions in so many different ways.
Pleasure being in the presence of “grace being earned”.
Glad I got my permit to reside in Starhill years ago.

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posted April 11, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Sigaliris, I think it boils down to how we spend our time and how we spend our money; all of it should be by the leading of God. We should never blame those who want to help others in crisis.
That some people in their suffering will never receive a widespread outpouring of love, is more a consequence of a luckless birthright rather than human (unfair)favoritism. For that we can only blame God.

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the stupid Chris

posted April 11, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I don’t think the “fundraiser” is really about money, folks. It’s about the love of a community for this remarkable person. Period. That should be allowed, even celebrated, shouldn’t it?
On the policy front, isn’t it interesting that the top 7 nations for “economic freedom” according to the Heritage Foundation all have the very kind of health care systems we’re assured would ruin freedom in the USA, the kinds of health care systems we weren’t allowed to even debate because they were Nazi-Communistic-Socialist takeovers of health care?

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posted April 11, 2010 at 4:02 pm

I was at Ruthie’s benefit last night, and I wish that I had gotten to meet you Rod; however, I feel like I know you just from reading your blog. I would like to say that I wondered about insurance at one time also, but I was reminded that some insurances pay 80%, and the patient pays the other 20%. Some treatments cost $10,000 or more. Do you see where I am coming from? What if she has 2 treatments/week? Look how fast the money adds up.
Furthermore, this is not about someone getting special treatment and someone getting “left out.” This is about the love of a human being. I don’t think (actually, I know) that I have not made an impact on this community like Ruthie has; however, I think they would do the same for me. It is a community full of christians who would (and have done for others) what God would want us to do.
We had a great time last night, as every one else that was there did. I hope we didn’t wear Ruthie out too much. I will say that her beauty sure does shine through in her (and Mike’s) three girls.

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thomas tucker

posted April 11, 2010 at 5:30 pm

What an awesome event. And thank God that you were able to be there for your sister, Rod.
There are many people praying for her thanks to your posts, and also many trying to live their lives more like her, again thanks to your posts.
Truly awesome.

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Erin Manning

posted April 11, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Rod, it sounds so beautiful–many prayers still coming, and will continue.
Sig, if I may–a woman in our parish, a widow, just answered God’s call and took vows to be a sister–in an order called the “Eudist Servants of the 11th Hour,” which follows other religious who model their life after St. John Eudes. I had never heard of this group, but how practical they are–the women are older, they take vows for one year at a time, they are self-supporting, and their ministry is to the elderly, poor, ill, imprisoned, and other “forgotten and abandoned children of God.” Our local sister will be especially working with the elderly poor and sick.
Does this take care of the problem you outline, the forgotten woman with no one to help her? No, not completely, but it is the lighting of a single candle instead of a cursing of the darkness. My family once knew some of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Singapore, and their ministry especially to the indigent elderly is another such candle. There are many similar orders–and there are groups which are not religious, etc. who try to help, and many individuals who see needs like these and try to fill them.
The passion with which you express yourself here makes me wonder if you have considered whether perhaps you have a “calling” to this type of work yourself! If you can’t directly volunteer to help someone who is suffering from cancer or who is lonely or in need, perhaps you can find a way to support those who do this type of ministry. I know it will be a while before my duties allow me to return to volunteer work in nursing home settings, but I’ve done that before, and would find it a natural place to return to; in the meantime I consider it a privilege to be able on occasion to help support this sort of work that others are doing.
What I see in Rod’s posts about Ruthie is this–we are all part of this one, same, human community, this one family of God. Sometimes those ties are visible and tangible, as in the case of someone like Ruthie; sometimes those ties are less so, as in the case of the poor and sick that orders like the Missionaries of Charity help in obscurity in third-world nations. But we are all family. We can’t all help each person who needs help, but we can discern where our time, talents, donations, efforts, etc. are likely to do the most good, and do what we can to bring light to the situation. If no one else is bringing Christ to the woman in the trailer, then it may be up to us, individually, to do so.

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posted April 11, 2010 at 7:21 pm

I don’t really know what to say except thanks for sharing. God bless your sister and all who’ve shown her so much love, and I’ll keep her in my prayers.

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Rod Dreher

posted April 11, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Sig, I apologize if I misinterpreted you. Your concern for those who have nobody to throw fundraisers for them is sincere and important. In fact, I got off the phone just now with my sister, who said the exact same thing, and how she wishes she could give the money to a fund to help everyone in town with cancer who is struggling to pay bills. I said “moral egalitarian” because I thought you were in effect saying that we can’t take pleasure in acts of kindness to particular people in need because we cannot, or do not, help everyone in need. I was so grateful and overwhelmed by the generosity of Ruthie and Mike’s friends toward them that I felt defensive of those folks and their very, very good deed.

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posted April 11, 2010 at 9:26 pm

“…is Lennonesque: the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
You mean McCartneyesque…………..

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Kim Boone Dreher Lozano

posted April 12, 2010 at 12:16 am

Rod….though I wasn’t there physically, my heart was there with every step. Thank you for the strength you have shown in giving us an insight into this ……….. God is good, life is hard, Ruthie is amazing. Thanks to St. Franny for showing what “Southern Hospitality” really means… starts with a pinch of true love! Kisses, Aunt Ka

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Carla Kimble Brown

posted April 12, 2010 at 2:07 am

You reap what you sow………….right now Ruthie is reaping the fruit of the seeds she has planted. The outpouring of love and compassion from this community is a reflection of Ruthie’s character. St. Francisville has rallied around one of their own in her time of need. This is nothing new for this town. Ruthie just happens to have a brother who can reach a lot of people through his job. (This publicity is also good for raising awareness about fundraising.) There have been fundraisers for many people in the past. And they will do it again for someone in the future. It is what small communities do, especially when everyone feels so helpless. So please don’t assume that Ruthie is the only person this town has helped.
Regardless of insurance coverage, these fundraisers are necessary. Medical expenses aren’t the only financial aspect of a serious illness. A lot of the time there is lost income. The last thing someone who is ill should have to worry about is paying a car note, a gas bill, or a house payment.
My BFF of 30 years died March 30 of lymphoma and leukemia. Several fund raisers were held to help cover medical expenses and lost income. Many thousands of dollars was raised, but it still was not enough. And it is definitely feasible to think that with all the money raised for Ruthie in the past couple of weeks, it may not cover all of her expenses. But it does help.
God created us to serve and not be served. Communities are supposed to reach out and help in a person’s time of need. Become active in your community and help someone.

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Rod Dreher

posted April 12, 2010 at 11:23 am

You’re right, Carla, and to be clear, I want nothing I’ve written here to be taken as the last or only word about what people of the town have done for other sick people who live among them. As Carla points out, Ruthie happens to have a brother who is a writer with a large blog following around the country and even overseas. I don’t want to downplay the significance of what local folks have done for her, nor do I want to downplay the role of her character (that is, the way she’s lived her life) in inspiring so much affection and devotion to her from those who have lived with her all her life. That said, it would not be fair or accurate to assume that this is the only thing townsfolk have ever done to help someone in the community in crisis. I don’t live there, so I don’t know.

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Your Name

posted April 12, 2010 at 3:15 pm

I attended and helped at the event for Ruthie Saturday night and the outflowing of love and support for Ruthie were overwhelming. While the money raised will certainly be a blessing for Mike and the family, that is not what this event was about. It was about the love and respect for a beautiful woman who so many in our communtity care about. I believe anyone who attended the event would agree that it was much more than a fundraiser. Yes, we opened our wallets, but we would do so much more if we could. My family and I pray for Ruthie, Mike, and the girls every night. Rod, please know that you are in my prayers as well.

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