If I never live another day in my life, I know it was a life well spent. I received a letter from a young man whom I taught when he was in the gifted program as a sixth- grader at Moody Middle School in Richmond, Virginia. Now, as a graduate of psychology from UVA, our paths have crossed again.
I will let him show you here the meaning of love and what it means to reach out and hold each other up. It’s a long letter, but if you stay with it . . . you will see and feel the miracle:
Written to me on March 22nd, 2015: This is from Nathaniel Mason. At 23, he is now a student of A Course in Miracles. He has one of the smartest, quickest minds I have ever encountered. Watch for him as the years unfold. He is the light of the world.
Now . . . to that letter he wrote to me . . . a letter meant for more than just me. With his permission, I am reprinting it here because it is all about walking each other home. I am elated to be in this young man’s presence.
Ruth – 10 years later
Time is remarkable; but, then again, so is anything related to time. Seasons, sunlight, moonlight, buds on trees. The most remarkable symbol of time is running into someone who will unknowingly change your life forever. I suppose a better way of saying that would be to say running into said person was a matter of perfect timing from God.
Ruth Perkinson, on a piece of paper, is a remarkable lady. Off the piece of paper, no cameras around, off-record, she is truly a God send. I first encountered her at Moody Middle School in 2002, just before the leaves hinted at their fall tints for the season. I was attending the baccalaureate program there for gifted students. It was a socially stunting program (save the few good friends I still remain in contact with) but academically it prepared me like no other place would. Ruth was my English teacher assigned to me for that year. My first couple impressions of her are just as germane to my impressions of her now. Intelligent, witty, and particularly warm – something I thought so many teachers lacked. She wasn’t an old spinster or a grammar Nazi or even one of those English teachers that retires at 58 who, even though she’s had a great life and still loves her husband, she makes her student write in cursive. Ruth was innovative and engaging as we marched awkwardly with our pre-pubescent gates into the antiquated and often stuffy cinderblock classroom.
The ever-anonymous feelings we had as students in many of our other classes, where we didn’t know if our teachers knew much beyond the first few letters of the names we go by, was totally null and void when we walked into E Block (my first period of the day on ‘Gold Days’, the other day being ‘Burgundy’, respectively deemed appropriate based on the school’s colors). Ruth knew our first and last names and our distinctive little quirks in our personalities. Right away, she picked up on my wittiness, particularly quick comebacks where other students were afraid to speak. She laughed with us and not at us. The stories we studied were taught with such a strong emotional connection to the main character that I felt as if the characters had truly come alive in my sphere of consciousness. Beatty from Fahrenheit 451 was as glossy and devilish as he was in the novel. Charles Wallace from A Wrinkle in Time was the little prodigy that never will quite fit in that we all rooted for, while turning the pages of the wonderful sci-fi novel in the springtime sun. We were graded for the first time on our poetry, on our research writing skills, and I still remember the gorgeous cursive that slid upward as her comments became increasingly enthusiastic.
My sixth grade year was filled with uncertainty. Not knowing how to fit in, not knowing what I would get on my next assessment, not knowing anything about my new social group (or lack thereof). Middle school, for all intents and purposes, is a horrible place where creativity and individualism go out the window to die. But that’s all I really have to say about it. Every other stereotype is sufficiently addressed in other people’s memoirs. It would be paying lip service to the already understood. But when I walked into Ruth’s room 2 or 3 times a week, depending on the schedule, I knew I was being paid attention to, that I mattered, that we as people matter in this bizarre world that was just surfacing on our 11-year-old radars. I knew that the love felt in that room for 90 minutes was as real as the love my parents, grandparents, and close friends and family had ever showed me. This wonderful lady exuded a light that couldn’t be diminished even if someone tried.
She left such an impact on me that I wrote to her in the 7th grade, telling her of my memories of her classroom and thanking her for teaching me the value to be okay with a “B.” I had no idea she would still be there the following year for English. And that I would be lucky enough to have her again. The class was wonderful, and I had a straight “A” all year. We had a test on Hamlet, and read Fall of the House of Usher, a story so menacing and haunting that it needed so little action and dialogue to convey the emotion of a disintegrating family. Sadly, very sadly, in the winter of that year, before Christmas break I believe, she announced that she was leaving. I was very disappointed. I knew that she was going to be doing great things and I wanted a way to keep in contact with her.
One night, while at my job as a library assistant at UVA, I Googled her name and found a radio interview on an independent station in Richmond where she talked about her novels that she had written. I was flabbergasted to hear the same voice, with the loving, warm cadence that I had remembered from years before. It was really her! I found out she had a blog, and I read about every update. I finally picked up her latest spiritual novel, Spirit Home, and found myself enamored by her tales of forgiveness, love, and the beauty in life that resonates with us even in the darkest of moments. That book catalyzed my fascination and desire to continue this very memoir. Thank you, Ruth. That book, coupled with the strong whisperings in my soul to reach out to her, compelled me to finally reach out. I left a private message on her blog about coming out, the season with Cameron, and where I felt spiritually and psychologically at that time. A day or two later, I got a beautiful and heartfelt response. That turned into more responses. Then coffee at a local Starbucks.
We talked and gossiped and laughed about nearly every subject in the book for almost 3 hours until they closed. I left feeling the aura of being around someone that was now not only a former wonderful teacher, but a holy, tried and true Friend. For those who know me I am not a private person with those that are open. But for those that are close-minded or set in their ways of thinking about you, like most people, I have a difficult time sharing. I could talk so freely with her about life and religion, and family and sexual encounters, drug use (or in my case, a strong lack thereof) and at the end of it all still laugh. What a pure blessing it was to connect with someone on that level again. At the time, the biggest thing I needed from her was reassurance that heartbreak is very real, but it is not forever. She shared with me in the coffee-infused space near the little frosted window her tales of woes with women. Women who doubted themselves, the world, and their feelings towards her. There have been tons of “Camerons” out there. Ruth is so similar to me in that we are both expressive and have a hard time keeping our feelings closed. She has been blessed in time with being more sure of herself than I am currently of me, but I feel the Holy Spirit is working through this encounter to teach me about self-love and sharing my aura with the world.
Her source of inspiration to keep going, through years of psychotic episodes, near-suicides, and pain and suffering and addictions, was her stumbling upon a beautiful text, A Course in Miracles. The Jesus – scribed, divinely inspired manual of about 1200 pages has seeped through her soul and sweated out in beautiful droplets through her pores. Many people have loud, cranky opinions on how religion, God, and the world at large should be viewed. The Course boils it down beautifully:
Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God.
And the ego, with its menacing entity of many faces, rears its ugly head to spread the wealth of lies, guilt, shame, anger, anxiety, and worry. But these are all a dream, a feverish dream from which we wake in a moment of glory when we realize the separation between man and God was never real in the first place. God is within us and wants us to engender joy. We do this by loving and forgiving others that we hold grievances against. That is the summation of the Course in a small nutshell.
Ruth has attended a Monday night group for ACIM for a while now at a local Unitarian Church in Glen Allen. I encourage everyone to read her novel, Spirit Home, to find out more about where she came in her love to need and find joy and fulfillment in the Course’s beautifully simple message. The novel, quite literally, might have saved my life from decades of the same destructive patterns I had been engaging in for years – self-loathing, not finding self-worth internally, impressing others that don’t care about me, worrying incessantly about my resume, my finances, my image, etc. The novel brought me back to her. In a glorious email a while after our coffee meeting, she mentioned she would be starting an ACIM group at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in the beautiful Bellevue neighborhood off Laburnum avenue. The sidewalks are caked with large, stately brick homes and landscaped backyards.
The first Saturday morning (what a perfect reset time of the week!) that the ACIM group met, I felt nervous. I was shocked to know that Ruth was nervous herself in leading the group. Not only has she been studying the Course for a while, but also – like she was in the classroom – she brings that rare brand of intelligence sprinkled gingerly with a lot of heart and humor. Everyone agrees she is a blessing. By the end of my time there, I knew I had met people that would become lifelong friends. They were loving and warm, and embodied the energy and fellowship of Christ. No judgment, no questions asked to make anyone uncomfortable, perfect listening and understanding. And like everyone, these people all have their own stories. I have yet to fully share mine, but everything in due time. Like my mom says, you’re not going to solve every major problem in one day, especially on a beautiful spring Sunday.
Ruth and her partner, Heather, have brought me the kind of joy and friendships that I have never experienced. We never need a TV, a radio, or a phone to fill the silences, simply because there are none. Heather, her partner whom she is marrying this June (I am so excited for that wedding) is wise beyond her years, and is probably one of the calmest people I’ve ever met. I like that she doesn’t like small talk and acts like little things that people do or quirks that they have are beyond her scope of paying attention to. True introverts are a gift to the world because they help us extroverts remember what is written on our souls. If my partner in life was like Heather, I would be as joyful as I see Ruth. We’ve all laughed, sometimes one or more of us have teared up, and we still can’t believe that this couple that visits these two locales for ACIM are real. God bless Mickey and Coco for all they give to the world. God bless the fact that they are likely African American ghosts sent to us through a time portal off of Chamberlayne and Hawthorne Avenues. They have assured me, time and time again, that I am a spirit, whole and innocent, and that all is surely forgiven. Every time I am with them, I feel the spiritual buzz of love and joy ringing in both ears and the pathways of the neural noodle.
They ironically live about 2.5 miles away from where I live in a wonderful house with a sweet, loving dog named Sadie, and a black cat that is probably a gay, angry man trapped in a cat’s lifetime. His name is Gabriel and I can’t help but like him. He needs a lot of love and attention, just like we do in the darkest of moments. All of this in the past few months because I reached out. All of this in the past few months because I kept wondering what had happened to her. All of this in the past few months because the Holy Spirit had it written years before, when that little lady in the summer of 2002, in a ruddy-brick building off of Woodman Rd. put me in this lovely woman’s class, probably not thinking twice about it before sipping her watered down Diet Coke from lunch.
Truly, it is the smallest of miracles that get us to where we need to be.
I hope this encapsulates just a fraction of what you’ve done for me. This is my chapter I have written to dedicate to you in my novel. I think it is starting to take shape. Love you with all of my heart. And to think it all started in E block!
Living in a holy encounter,