“We”re survivors”, Ruth said, reminding me yet again that this too shall pass.
I worked alongside Ruth at a mental health clinic down in the bario, 3rd Avenue. The Bronx, as south as it gets before the bridge into Manhattan and slightly further, Queens, Astoria country. Ruth had as much life in her as her as a woman half her age. I always felt my age around her. At the end of the workday, she was awake and talkative than I was which wasn’t good because I was driving us both to our respective homes.
We didn’t always get along. Well, that’s not true. I didn’t have enough to to dislike her before she blindsided me with her spirited wit and courageous personality fearing nothing but learned helplessness. Ruth was bright, and had learned, throughout her life, how to survive in a world which was both cruel and relentlessly unforgiving for those who refused to learn from their mistakes. She loved growth, prided herself on insight, and had no shortage of experiences in life. I would hazard to say she surpassed most people her age and those she considered her elders when it came to lived experience. Ruth never called herself a peer, but she she was apart of the mental health movement as anyone I knew when it came to self acceptance and owning her shit.
So; when I say we didn’t get along at first i mean I was out of my element. She put me there. Purposely, albeit, but successfully in the way a therapist gets you to question yourself and your stuff. No need to explain how, because she didn’t just do it once, or twice, but until the day we lost each other. We missed Ruth when it was time for her to move on from the clinic. She told us she was taking her power back. The truth was it was just time for her to move on in her life and it pained us to see her walk. But she was no stranger to change, adapting, and moving forward in her life. She knew how to move on from pain, and leave it where it needed to remain, until processed and ready for absorption for re entry into the soul. Ruth’s soul ran as deep as mine, she would say. I was an old spirit in her book. I took this as a compliment, and still do.
When Ruth moved away to be closer to her family and daughter, i supported her. We stayed friends. Phone calls, late night chatter, and text tag in the early hours of our days, to reconnect and stay kindred in our common fondness for each other. When Ruth was diagnosed with Cancer, i wasn’t worried. Ruth was a fighter, a survivor. And thats exactly what Ruth did, from a far. Ruth fought the good fight and beat cancer. This wasn’t the first time either. I checked in with her often and listened to her progress and was moved by her courage. When she came back to town and visited I saw how skinny she had become. She had sad radiation was rough and now I truly saw what she had felt with and overcame. I took her too the diner and feed her as much as possible. When it was time to say goodbye, I reminded her to eat, and she did, putting weight on and becoming shapely again.
Life turned its pages again. When I got the call that the cancer came back, I was concerned. Ruth didn’t have to regroup, to rally back in her weight and nutrition. But Ruth, the surivor she was, fought on. In fact, I was told the cancer was in full retreat. Nothing could stop Ruth, and I was awe struck for my friend, a true comrade in the art of surviving and weathering the storm of life. When she came back to visit again, we ate good food, and enjoyed the summer sun like the first time we socialized as friends years ago. Our journey took us to the Halocaust museum in NYC to the Aschewitz Exhibit. When we got there, we walked the exhibit again, awestruck, not of our micro tale in survival, but of the Jewish people. Ruth couldn’t believe her eyes, and either could I, at the sights of resistance and oppression around us. We took pictures, read every notation and watched each video there was to learn from about survival.
At the end of the exhibit, we walked over to the balcony, to look at the Statue of Liberty overlooking the Hudson River and all of the beauty around us. We looked at each other knowing the trip was over and we had to move forward or surrender to the day. Neither of us was willing to surrender just yet. When I kissed her goodbye, we promised to once again connect and be healthy with ourselves. Weeks went by and I didn’t hear from Ruth. I left messages. One day i made yet another attempt to reach Ruth. Her daughter picked replied back to me in a message that Ruth was sick and would be in touch as soon as she felt better. More weeks went by, and one morning her daughter message me ther Ruth had passed. I cried to myself until I realized she didn’t die. Ruth had did what she had always done. Ruth had taken her power back again. She survived cancer by moving on with her spirit to a place not even the most villainous evil could do her harm. Ruth was liberated from the poisens in her body and found peace along the way. For sprits like Ruth never die, as long as people like you and I remember what she taught us all about living.