Part I: Unique and Marvelously Made
I tried to read but I was restless. Every once in a while I would lift my hips and shift my weight in the chair. It was a hard, sticky, and uncomfortable hospital chair and I had been sitting in it for several hours. I was in St. Edward Hospital tending to my mother-in-law, Ruth, who was recovering from surgery. She was not doing well. What I did not know was that she would die in a week from complications due to the surgery. I watched her as I sat there. She was in a deep sleep from which she would wake every once in a while, often times murmuring an inaudible sound and then returning to some deep place that seemed to welcome her.
As I observed her, I was caught up in my own memories and her uniqueness; Ruth at Paul’s and my wedding, releasing her only son into another woman’s hands; Ruth, who at the birth of our children, literally wore out the wheels of a stroller rolling the boys up and down our neighborhood; Ruth and her millions of hours playing the piano and violin…without a note of written music, her quoting poetry and scriptures for as long as you cared to listen… from memory. There was Ruth, famous for her book reviews; and for being named the most liked and most unforgettable faculty “character” by the students at the university where she taught. Perhaps it was the time when her girdle somehow undid itself and slipped down below her knees while she was teaching Freshman English; or the always “bed-lain” look of the back of her hair. And then there was Ruth, Ruth at the death of her husband and her two adult daughters. She was a woman of deep intellect and simple faith, strong and in every way unique.
Ruth was not particularly domestic by nature, although she tried. I remember the time her husband refused to let her hem his pants anymore because she had ruined two pair. She had cut the same leg off…twice. Her driving was the whispers and smiles of town talk. She was messy in the kitchen. Her cooking was always a work in progress with flour or something on the floor, but she constantly had people over for dinner. That was the way she was. Everyone loved Ruth. Everyone knew she was unique. I loved Ruth.
I can remember only one time in the 35 years I knew her when we had any cross words. It was early in Paul’s and my marriage. We had two boys under two when she came for a visit. One morning I started to make pancakes and we were out of syrup. She decided she wanted to make syrup from scratch. Get the picture. I was no dummy. I knew what my kitchen would look like when she got finished with the sugar and the water and the stove. I insisted that I go to the store and get the syrup. I left. What I did not know was that she had made up her mind to make syrup. Her recipe was to combine lots of corn syrup, sugar and water and then boil it until lights out. When I got back home and walked in, the sugary goo was on the stove, the counter top, the floor in front of the stove and Ruth. I remember just glaring at her, walking over to the couch, sitting down and contemplating (out loud) about the mess. She went to her room. We later, much later, laughed about the syrup from scratch.
I was still smiling and musing about the syrup when suddenly she woke up and startled me. She popped open her small, close knit eyes, sat straight up in bed like she had heard someone call her name. And then with a sturdy voice she announced, “We are marvelously and wonderfully made.” She promptly lay back down and wandered back to her deep sleep. I will always remember her pronouncement that afternoon. I need to remember what she keenly knew: We are uniquely created, a one of a kind marvel and wonder.
We were called to the hospital one Saturday before the break of dawn. In the early morning hours Ruth had gone to join her husband and daughters. The nurse on duty told us that the night before she died she said to him, “I just saw my husband and I haven’t seen him in ten years.” She had witnessed a thin place; a place where the space between heaven and earth was almost transparent. She saw beyond the veil. I remember walking out of the hospital, with her old bone-colored purse in my hand. I looked up into a beautiful, morning, purple-mackerel sky; a one of a kind creation, never to appear on this earth again. I thought about the uniqueness that is embroidered on God’s creation. I thought about Ruth.
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother's womb.
I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
Psalm 139: 13-16 The Message (italics added)