The Unfamiliar Road
(Ruth’s Soliloquy, by Katrina Quinn)
A curse, they murmur, behind hands and bent heads. To have such bad luck? It must a be a curse: extinguishing the light of husbands and the possibility of heirs. A curse, they hiss, on both sides of the border. Never should have mixed blood and sweat and tongues. Never should have gone beyond the bounds of belonging.
But we made a home together and we belonged to each other and I think our differences made us stronger. And now, despite empty beds and empty wombs, we three are still here, still standing. If I accept that the story is over then I might as well curl up and join Mahlon in his grave. But there is still breath in me, and so when I lie down it will only be to dream.
And I’ll remember the reckless Ruth of my childhood, the adventurer, the one who gazed out to the hills and wondered what lay on the other side of them. I sense her stirring. Well, now I will find out if my imaginings were close to reality.
Now perhaps those stories of miracles that Elimelech rumbled out around the fire will come to life.
Maybe I’ll find the kind side of this God of theirs. Maybe I’ll meet the God that supplied water in the desert, that promised his presence, always. The God that gave gifts of children to the families who’d all but given up hoping.
Perhaps I’ll understand the songs that Naomi sings unceasingly, as if she’ll die if she stops.
Naomi is my family. We are bound in covenant and grief. I can’t return to my parents. I won’t. I know what kind of life there is for me in Moab, as a widow after ten years. Ten years of marriage is too long and too short all at once. The road here is all mapped out and nothing about it entices me. At least in Israel there’s a chance things could turn out different. There’s the hope that beckons on an unfamiliar path, a hope that whispers louder than the risk. I’m not sure it’s a brave or loyal decision, to stick by Naomi’s side. I’m not even sure it’s a decision, really. It’s the only way forwards that I can see. It’s all I have to give: my mouth to make a promise, my feet to keep on walking.
I’ve had enough of being hungry. My belly screams louder than the side glances and pitying tuts. Turns out women gossip no matter what place you are in. And although this is Naomi’s home, that’s not enough for me to be permitted to fit in.
But being the stranger provides a kind of freedom too, a release from expectation. I’m not sure I’d have been able to swallow my pride if we were back in Moab, but in this place I once again find myself stepping up to what needs to be done. And so to the fields I go. If it’s good enough for the birds…
I don’t mind the sun on my neck or the ache in my back when I crawl into bed. I like to feel useful, I’m thankful to be able to provide for Naomi and myself. It gives me justification for my stubbornness in staying with her. When I bring home a bundle of sheaves I hope it makes me more than just a reminder of all that she lost. Sometimes I think I even catch the glimmer of a smile playing at her mouth corners.
I’m getting stronger. I discover new (or old and buried) parts of me in the muscles hardening beneath my skin. In the resolve to stay a little longer each day out in the fields. I’m stepping out of the shadows, literally.
If this is to be the pattern for the rest of my life, well, maybe I’ll start to see it differently. It is not easy. Don’t get me wrong. But the past has shown me that you never know what might happen tomorrow. That hope of an unfamiliar path, an unwritten story, still hums in my feet. So I’ll try to focus on today.
There’s something about Boaz, you can’t deny it. I see the way the other girls look at him, try to catch his attention, even though he’s several decades their senior. I see the way the young men do the same, fighting each other for his approval. And I’m not stupid. I know he has seen me. When you are not from a place you stand out and are invisible all at once. People see my skin, my clothes, hear my accent. They mention Naomi’s family. And assume that means they know me. But no one asks me my story, no one asks me how I am. Boaz, though, he saw saw me. He asked about me. He spoke to me and looked me in the eyes. And for a moment, I think I saw him.
I learned long ago there is no point to arguing with a mother-in-law. And I know Naomi knows the rules of this land far better than I ever will. And I know she’ll know if I’ve done anything but what she instructs me. She has those piercing eyes that excavate truth without needing to say a word. So here I go again, stepping out onto an unfamiliar road, excitement, dread and curiosity colliding.
I thought my pounding heart would surely wake the whole threshing floor. Thank God for strong wine and winnow-weary bodies. If I wasn’t so nervous I would have laughed at the image of me, all dressed up and perfumed, hovering in the darkness like a spy, picking my way around piles of grain and sneaking under Boaz’s blanket. I’m not a little girl, this was not a game. I’m a woman. I’ve known a man. I’ve known loss. Some days my heart hurts as much as my feet. Sometimes I feel I’ve lived too many grieving moons. But I felt the years drop away that night when Boaz responded to me with wonder in his voice. Even in the dark I could see his eyes shining.
And I am glad I took the unfamiliar path. Now Naomi’s eyes shine too. She sings softer, sweeter songs to Obed, our little joy-bringer.
As I watch them together sometimes I am invisible again. My chest is heavy with all we have lost and gained. I am home and I am not home. I am a home, I am sometimes at home. Home is the shining eyes that light dark corners. Home is the hills that lift my eyes, that whisper that the journey is not over. The voice inside that kept, and keeps my feet moving, into new and ancient territory. Most days now I believe that the miracle maker sees me, and always has.