When we moved in, we had more books than shelves to hold them, and so I was very deliberate in choosing which books live in each room, presented for all the world to see.
Somehow, though, the Hebrew text of the story of Ruth, Megillat Ruth, made its way to the surface of the upstairs bookshelf, which we pass every morning, noon and night on our way up and down and up again. It wasn’t my selection. I’ve tucked it into a shelf below, out of the way, because I didn’t think the story or the text itself was one I wanted to be prominent in our lives.
I guess Spirit has a different vision for this family.
Time and time again, I find the book with its glittery gold Hebrew lettering on the cover front and center, apart from all else, drawing my eye immediately as I walk upstairs in my own house. There it is, calling my attention, refusing to be hidden.
So I decided to embrace this message I’m getting from the universe or the creator or whomever, and think about why, exactly, the story of Ruth, the first convert, might be important for me to pay attention to.
Ruth was a stranger among the Jewish people, but she claimed my people as her people and stayed faithful to her adopted tradition all the days of her life. Her loyalty became to the tribe she chose, rather than the tribe she was born into.
We have so many tribes in our lives. We begin with the one we’re given at birth, and we either stay that course or we carve a new path.
There is the tribe of our schooling, and our summer camp experiences, and our college years, and our life after college, in the Real World, working and toiling and figuring out who we are.
There is the tribe of our eventual life partner. There is the ex-tribe of an ex-partner, to which we stay connected in some way, often, and there is the tribe of a new partner.
And then there is the chosen tribe, the group of people you choose to surround yourself with, the ones whom you claim loyalty to because you prefer them.
We all have bygone friends who served a time and a purpose in our lives but whom, at some point, we decided to let go. For better or for worse.
The parting is the sweetest sorrow – or it doesn’t have to be. We evolve and we grow and then certain relationships are no longer the ones best suited for us. And then we become the stranger among a group of familiar people, wondering where we fit once again.
To be a stranger in the crowd is to dare to confront new horizons and learn their contours first-hand. It’s not a bad thing to become the stranger after years of being familiar. And it’s no small matter to welcome the stranger into your midst.
In fact, if we are to harken back to biblical tales, let’s not forget the mandate from Abraham to leave your tent open on all sides, so that you can welcome the stranger and feed him at your table.
I’m talking about getting beyond our comfort zone, to the discomfort, to the welcoming stranger, so that we all evolve and thrive in the setting where we are meant to make a difference.
I am grateful for the unseen hand that keeps replacing this little text on my bookshelf because it’s a powerful reminder that I, too, am the stranger, and that there is no greater gift than to treat a stranger as a friend.