She almost died — and Ruth didn’t have to tell me why. I could see the reason etched in her facial lines. Ruth had been overcome with addiction, giving up hope until she surrendered to Redwood Teen Challenge, the residential recovery program.
Under a doctor’s care, she had asked to see a clergyman. I was the next best thing, although I am clearly unqualified. I told her she had been given new life just as I had this summer. It was our task to use it.
Sometimes, new life is more stressful than the old one. I cannot nap in the afternoon anymore because I would rather be moving mountains. I lose patience even with people I love, because they don’t see life’s beauty as I do.
On a night when I could have been resting, I jumped in my car again. Redwood Teen Challenge was celebrating the holidays with an open house. And I had a plan for the next few minutes of my life.
“Where is Ruth?” I asked at the Teen Challenge women’s center. She was sitting alone at the kitchen table, lost in thought.
I touched her shoulder. “Remember me?” I asked. Of course she did. Now with washed hair and new clothes, she look liked the regal woman I knew she was.
After visiting with her, I left and walked slowly out to my car. In the dark, it is easy for me to lose my balance. But then I turned back to the house. I am not sure why. I found her crying.
“She has been doing that since you left,” said one of the women. “She is happy that you came to see her.”
I helped her up and wrapped my arms around her. She embraced me, too — two strangers linked by the same spontaneous need.
We wonder how bad things happen to us. Cheese maker Roberto Laffranchi has a right to ask that question. He lost his cheese business as well as his home last week to a bank. Instead of grieving, he showed me his backyard roses, blossoming even on the eve of winter.
In the real world of finance, he could have spent more time with his balance sheets. I wish I had done the same with my money. We chose instead to smell the roses, their sweet scent lingering on the patio.
I would have given anything to live that blissful life again. But, smelling roses doesn’t pay well. I wanted back those days as a young reporter when hair covered my head while I covered the news.
My last big assignment was covering the campaign of a politician. He lost the election because he didn’t want to work for the votes. I lost my job because I just didn’t want to work. That winter, I missed it — my cranky boss and testy co-workers. I spent winter afternoons crying as I watched my recorded stories. I would have given anything for another chance.
I found it here in the redwoods — television’s craziness without the crankiness. It had taken me 30 years and a heart condition to feel young again. I even felt those butterflies waiting to do a live shot from Bob Laffranchi’s store. I felt that old joy again, even though my wobbly knees surely betrayed me.
That was not the high point of my week — not even close. It was that moment at Redwood Teen Challenge when two sets of wobbly knees were supporting each other, two fragile people, Ruth and I, finding singular strength.
The next morning, I was driving Leticia to school. I drew my cell phone from my pocket and invited her to look at one of its photos. It was that of a crusty TV reporter, his arms wrapped around a woman he barely knew, two disparate creatures finding strength in one another.
“That is what love looks like,” I told Leticia. “It is what happens when two people reach out for each other.”
She knew what I meant. A bond like that is not defined by age, language or even gender. It is nurtured by a priceless yearning that we all have. So, my prayers will always follow Ruth and the lesson she unwittingly gave to me that night in her kitchen. And like a resilient rose, she is still blossoming.
Dave Silverbrand’s columns and other writings are available on his website, www.davespeople.com.