I grit my teeth trying to keep the tears back again. With our men dead, returning to Naomi’s homeland seems the last meager shred of hope. Questions course through me with each heartbeat. Will we survive this journey from Moab to Bethlehem? Will we really find food? I feel my small skin of water dangling from my neck. I feel all my bones. “Oh God, our rock, guide us safely to Bethlehem,” I say. Dream and reality merge together like this land and the mirage which fools my eyes as I gaze across the horizon.
“What did you say Ruth?” my Mother-in-law looks up. Her bony fingers cling to my robes; her constant weight upon my shoulder burdens me, yet comforts me.
“I prayed to Jehovah,” My words seem to float in the heat. How could Orpah go back to her family and leave poor sweet Naomi? I wrestle down my anger toward my sister-in-law. I look at my mother-in-law. Sweet Naomi, “pleasant one”. Dust clings to the trails of her tears. Muddy rivers streak her face. I search her eyes for bitterness, certainly it tempts her, but somewhere in their depths I still see faith, the faith which convinced me to make her God my God.
As we enter the city the townspeople gather and stare, “can this be Naomi?” they ask in bewilderment. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter” she replies.
We find a cheap room, duck into the shade and bed down. I toss and turn. With morning light comes my first hope. I don my shawl and sneak toward the door, following after the servant girls who carry with them sickles and baskets. “Ruth?” It’s Naomi. “Naomi, let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”
“Go ahead my daughter.” she says.
I step into the field; tying my shawl around my neck and begin gleaning. The workers whistle at me. A teenage bystander points at me and laughs. How am I to know not to gather in the sheaves? I fade back behind a group widows. “I wonder what Boaz will wear today?” one says to the other.
“Boaz of Elimelech’s clan” I ask.
“Don’t play coy with us,” the women eye me suspiciously.
“Look, over there! It’s Boaz! Now just act natural girls.”
“The Lord be with you!” Boaz shouts.
“The Lord bless you!” we harvesters call back.
“Whose young woman is that?” I hear Boaz ask his foreman.
“She is the Moabitess who came back with Naomi” his foreman includes a full account of me. I look away, busying myself with the grain.
Suddenly I smell a sweet odor, “I’ve been told what you’ve done for your mother-in-law…” My heart trembles as I feel his shadow over me. I hesitate to look up.
Everyday as I return home, hope grows in Naomi’s face. One evening as we bake our barley loaves she eyes me keenly. “Should I not try to find a home for you where you will be well provided for? Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been a kinsman of ours?”
I tiptoe out our back door at dusk. I feel like I’m going on my first date. My hair wisps around under my veil, scenting the air with the perfume Naomi insisted I wear. I hesitate in the doorway but Naomi shoos me out, recounting to me the strange customs I must follow carefully.
I stand quietly behind a rough hewn pole as I watch a kitten play at Boaz’s feet. Boaz eats and drinks, then lies down, covering himself with his tunic. His breath slows into regular rhythm as gently I uncover his sandals, lay at his feet and wait. At midnight the kitten bounds out after a mouse and Boaz wakes. “Who are you?” he asks looking down at his cold feet. “I am your servant Ruth,” I say. Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer,” I hear myself say. “The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replies. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: you have not run after younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask.”
As I look at my Boaz I think about the blessings the townspeople uttered as I wed, and all the faith-steps along the way.
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