The habit of giving only enhances the desire to give.” ~Walt Whitman

2.23.04                                                                                  scottsdale, az

FOR THE LAST 3½ YEARS I’VE BEEN GREETED ONCE-A-WEEK BY THE GIDDY FACE YOU SEE IN TODAY’S PIC-OF-THE-DAY. Like a puppy that’s happy to see you after a long day at work, Ruth never failed to light up when I arrived at her doorstep. We should all be so lucky to be welcomed with such giddy enthusiasm on a regular basis by the people in our lives.

For those of you new to my story, I began paying Ruth weekly visits on August 1, 2000. We were paired up through Friends to the Elderly, a non-profit LA organization that hooks up volunteers with local senior citizens in need of companionship. I’ve been involved with Friends to the Elderly for 10 years now and Ruth is the 4th elderly person I’ve befriended.

Having Ruth in my life has been such a blessing. During our weekly visits—which usually last between an hour and 90 minutes—I’ve never once been bored with our conversation. And I’ve never left her apartment feeling anything but inspired and happy.

During my recent 6-week stay in SoCal, my weekly volunteer commitment consisted of my regular Ruth visits. After having been on the road most of last year, it was especially gratifying to spend time with her. Of all the people in my life, Ruth is probably the most eager of anyone to hear my stories. Just like I’m probably one of the most eager people in her life to hear her stories.

I’ll never forget a moment we had a few weeks ago. I was laughingly telling her about my most recent automotive foibles—my car horn was now spontaneously going off for no apparent reason. As I told her how this had already led to some embarrassing traffic moments, Ruth was cracking up.

“Oh, Robuht,” she giggled in her vaguely British intonation. “I never laugh when you’re not around. It’s so nice to laugh. I don’t know how you do it.”

One of the toughest things about being on the road has been not being able to see Ruth on a regular basis.

It’s a beautiful thing we’ve got going. Definitely one of the most gratifying relationships I’ve ever had. And further evidence of the too-often-ignored fact that to give is to receive tenfold.

* * *

The reason I’m writing about Ruth today is because I just got off the phone with her a couple hours ago. She sounded more upset than I’ve ever heard her.

“Hey, Ruth,” I said as I stood in the foyer outside Borders on Cactus Avenue in north Scottsdale. “How’d it go today?”

“Not good,” she said starting to cry. “The doctor says it’s cancer.”

Ruth went in this morning for an out-patient procedure to have a lesion removed above her eyelid. Now she’s gotta wait 7 to 10 days for the results of the biopsy.

“Either way,” she said fighting back the tears, “I need to go back and have surgery to have the rest of it removed.”

Ruth is terrified. I could hear it in her voice.

I tried to tell her it was gonna be alright. I tried to provide my usual dose of optimism. But this time it was harder to pull off.

A few weeks ago when Ruth told me she needed the procedure I was confident everything was gonna be fine. I’d never heard of anyone having “eye cancer.”

I was sure the doctor would go in and quickly remove what I assumed to be a small cyst near her eye.

Then last night, while I was watching the series finale of Sex and the City at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Scottsdale, I met a 6th grade school teacher whose ex-husband actually DIED of “ocular melanoma.”

The timing of this tidbit of information couldn’t have been worse.

But I’ll try to remain positive and muster up as much optimism as possible each time I talk to Ruth. She’s had such a tough life. Her first love went off to World War II, came back, married Ruth—then had a fling with a nurse while he was in medical school. Leaving Ruth to raise their young twin sons.

A few years later Ruth married a man she didn’t love—whose name, ironically, was Bob—so that her boys would have a father figure. (No wonder she’s been calling me “Robert” ever since I’ve known her.)

Ruth stayed with Bob for nearly 20 years. The best part of her marriage to Bob was David, the kindhearted son they had. David is Ruth’s pride and joy, but lives 3000 miles away just outside of Boston. (I enjoyed a memorable 3-day stay with David and his Orthodox Jewish family last July, which included my first visit to Friday night temple.)

After her marriage to Bob ended, Ruth never remarried. But she did fall in love again. To a career military man named John. Ruth and John met in San Francisco and dated for years in San Diego. Then, about 5 years into their relationship, they had an argument and stopped speaking for a few days.

Ruth soon learned there was a reason John wasn’t calling her to patch things up: he had died of a stroke.

And now her heart is breaking all over again.

Maybe everything will turn out alright this time around. But until the biopsy results come back and the surgery is over, I know Ruth is gonna be a wreck. She doesn’t have many friends left in LA. And her asthma and heart condition keep her inside most of the time, where she spends way too much time watching the horror and mayhem breaking out all over the world on the news.

Tomorrow I’m gonna write Ruth a little note letting her know I’m thinking of her. If anyone out there has the inclination to do the same, just let me know and I’ll e-mail you her address. I realize most of you have never met my sweet 77-year-old friend.

But as I’ve discovered time and time again, kind words from a stranger can have a profound impact on an aching heart.

* * *

I know many of you are awaiting my assessment of last week’s 5-day visit with Boston Jacquie. Not to worry. That’s coming in the next few days. I also want to write about some of the fascinating people I’ve met since I’ve been here in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. As always, the stories are piling up.

I just needed to get this stuff about my friend back in LA off my chest right now. Thanks for hearing me out.

Hang in there, Ruth.

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