Dreher believes Ruthie was a true saint. Being the only person that a saint was unable to graciously embrace is an unenviable position—and Dreher is deeply hurt by Ruthie’s rejection. After her death he learns details about how Ruthie spoke of him (not well) to her family, even as he believed they had reached a new intimacy during her illness. He finds some resolution by taking responsibility for how his childhood taunting of Ruthie might have led to lifelong resentment. As a little sister who experienced full-on violence at the hands of an older brother, I felt that explanation perhaps took normal sibling discord a little too seriously. Nonetheless, Dreher’s desire to share Ruthie’s goodness with the world in spite of how she sometimes failed to bestow that goodness on him is admirable, and a testament to Ruthie’s power, in life and death, to bring about reconciliation.
The Little Way of Ruthie Leming provides an important counterpoint to abundant progressive Christian writing pointed firmly outward, toward a sacrificial love directed at those on society’s margins, rather than those within one’s own family and community. There are few acts of love more sacrificial, after all, then choosing to accept, forgive, and abide with people who have wounded us most deeply because they also love us (or are supposed to love us) most deeply. Rod Dreher wants readers to witness how Ruthie embodied such radical acceptance. In telling his story, he convinced me that he does too.
Ellen Painter Dollar is author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Parenthood, and Faith in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). You can find her online at ellenpainterdollar.com.