Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In Memory of Ruth

Ruth Scott was one of those members you can't miss. She was older than many of us at the Writing Mamas, somewhere in her seventies, and she spoke energetically and with wisdom. She also spoke often. That's the part that sometimes created detours in our meetings that slightly infuriated me (yes, I'll admit that) -- but usually her stories and insights were memorable for all of us. She was real and thoughtful and had depth of perspective that was special.

Occasionally, she commented on the Writing Mamas' blog site. One of my favorite comments ever came from her. I had written that I couldn't stop crying for the multi-layered losses a high school friend had endured, reflecting on how fiercely we pray not to lose those closest to us. Ruth commented:

I find it amazing that anyone is brave enough to have a child, to love another, as loss is always a possibility. Yet without the risk what is life. I know everyone has a sorrow. I go out everyday trying to not add a burden to anyone as I know they may already be overburdened. We are all interconnected in everyway. Beware that fear of losing someone can cause anxiety and over-protection and this too can be destructive. Ruth Scott

She had loved, lost, risked, gained, and survived - and had powerful thoughts on how to meet our challenges.

Ruth died last week, unexpectedly, quietly, in her sleep, after spending the holidays with all of her children and all of her grandchildren.

Here's her essay, which The Marin Independent Journal published yesterday at the request of The Writing Mamas.

Read it. You'll catch a glimpse of what we all loved about her, and what we will dearly miss.


By Ruth Scott

At 39, I had cancer.

During the week before surgery, I was walking down the street in Mill Valley holding the hands of my 4-year-old daughter, Ann, and my 7-year-old daughter, Alison.

In their other hands they each held an ice cream cone. I remember extreme awareness of my surroundings as I thought to myself, "If this is all there is, then I am blessed." At that moment I saw every leaf on the tree before me as individual, unique and important, yet interconnected to the whole. I've never forgotten that moment. I later heard someone describe a similar feeling that they had experienced with psychedelic, acid-type drugs.

I could understand why they would want to have this experience again. Life with cancer had given me a blessing. I felt centered, free to be in the moment.

Twenty years later I had my second cancer. One of my thinking processes at these times was to accept death, and try to learn its lessons. I wrote, "Thoughts of death bring sweet return, when from them more of life we've learned."

If you do not live, you have little use for this lesson, but there is always the chance that you will have time to practice what you have learned. I admit that I have learned many more things than I have been able to put into practice. I believe it was Goethe who wrote, "A seeker of truth is a student of death."

I believe this is true.

I created a game, a habit, of looking at or experiencing things as if it were "for the last time." We go through life learning new things, doing them for the first time. First we learn to see. Our eyes do not focus so vision must be practiced and learned, and it really is exciting if only we could remember. You can watch a child take his first step and see the joy and excitement it brings. We may record his first spoken word.

There is a different excitement and joy that comes from doing things and seeing things for the last time. There is a sense of appreciation and thankfulness, a gratitude for having the experience that a "first" cannot compete with.

To watch my grandchild take her first step is magnified and appreciated for perhaps I will never again experience that moment when a child launches herself into the bipedal upright stance. I savor the moment as I do all the times in the last few years that I have skied down the perfect slope on a clear winter day for the last time.

This summer I jumped off a cliff on Long Lake below Mt. Elwell, again, for the last time. The height scares the grandchildren; the cold of the lake challenges me, but it's there and the "last time" makes it seem easier, not so cold. "I won't have to do this again," I say, and I jump. My grandchildren may return at 75 and remember, saying, "Well, Grandmom did it, so can I."

Perhaps, I'll inspire from the grave what I could not inspire in life.

I climb again to my favorite pine that grows high on a rock over Big Bear Lake. It is alone, and one cannot see any soil around its trunk, only rock. Year after year this pine is still there, facing winter storms, the cold and the weight of wind and snow, and still it survives, bonsai, and beautiful. I come back every year for the "last time" receiving comfort and strength. "If you can make it, I can make it," I say to this tree, my friend and inspiration.

I can walk through Mill Valley for the last time and it's amazing what I see and review and I am renewed. It is enough to have had each experience and if it is the last of the last times I am fortunate to have appreciated each moment in time.

First times you can only have once; last times you can experience over and over again.


Click here to read more of her writings.


Jennie Englund said...

Ruth leaves a quite a loss, I see. She sounds wise; an example of the rewards of taking risks.

Her writing is lovely, reflective of her strength but sensitivity.

Two rounds of cancer must have cause her great suffering, yet none is evident.

I would love to hear about your first and last times with her, and the times in between

Anonymous said...

I so appreciated Ruth's essay and think I will begin the "last time" practice.

How good that you could admit your infuriation with, and also your appreciation of, Ruth. I love that you younger writers all had an older one with whom to interact. I know you truly enjoyed your older woman member in your book club who was a librarian.

Just think, you have even now that opportunity, as well as in the future, to share as an older woman. Oops, I'm not projecting too much age on you, am I?

Thank you for sharing about Ruth.
Love, Mom

Natalie N said...

Wow, I LOVED that! What a sweet woman. I loved her insight into experiencing last times over and over again. She sounds like such a wise and wonderful woman. Thanks for sharing her wisdom.