Over the last few years, I’ve read several books that seem to be beckoning me to home. Almost any of Wendell Berry’s books, especially the one I’ve read most recently, Jayber Crow, will stir your thoughts to home and community. In June, I attended the CiRCE Summer Institute’s inaugural retreat, where we read and discussed Homer’s The Odyssey. If that poem isn’t a call to remember and to homecoming, I don’t know what is.
As I read these books, I hear a faint voice growing ever louder for me to learn to love my ground, to love the sky I’m under. I was a young man who fled the small town life in which I grew up for adventures beyond the sea. I joined the Air Force and traveled west to Texas and California, east to Europe and the Middle East. Now, I’m in North Carolina trying to create a home and a commmunity, a place with roots that my children will forever know as home.
This is the story of Rod Dreher’s new book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, a biographical sketch of the author and his sister, Ruthie. Dreher’s story considers those same themes of family, community, rememberance, and homecoming. Rod Dreher, like me, like many of us, was the young man who left home for grander adventures. Ruthie was the young lady who loved her ground. Through his sister’s life and tribulations, Dreher learned what he actually gave up in leaving. It wasn’t the boredom of small town life he had given up, it was the love of community, family, and neighbors.
Rod left home for the lure of journalism, big cities, and big adventures. Ruthie stayed home to be near friends and family, to serve her community as a teacher. He’s a mover; she was a sticker. Then she fell gravely ill. And it was during her illness that he began to see what the love of home, family, and community did for her. Her community rose up to help her, to encourage her, to love her. He saw this, way off in Philadelphia, and wondered what would happen if the same thing had happened to him. What community would arise to love him and his wife and children, and would it look like the one that rose to the occassion for Ruthie?
Maybe we all need to be reminded of the necessity of community from time to time. So we find ourselves drawn to Wendell Berry and Homer. Maybe we find ourselves ignoring the still small voice calling out to us. If we can get away with ignoring the voice that Berry and Homer awaken, then maybe the straightforwardness of Dreher’s book will make that voice just a little louder. In either case, I dare you to read this book without shedding a few tears. I submit you won’t be able to.