The History Of Ruth
On Saturday 17 December 2016, at 18 Callendar Street, Sunnybank Hills, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Ruth Elizabeth Buch died of Stage IV malignant brain tumour (glioblastoma multiforme).
Something of my personal identity (and that is a very big philosophical question) died. For some people, death comes in a flash of time, but for most of us, death is a long process. It was for Ruth, and for my personal identity, as it was, that was also the case. Ruth lived with dying from the disease for seven years, five more years than the average life expectancy at the time of diagnose. Ruth’s long dying changed her own personal identity, and, in fact, changed each of us; each family member. We would never be the same.
On the mountains of memory, by the world’s wellsprings,
In all men’s eyes,
Where the light of the life of him is on all past things,
Death only dies. – Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909)
ATTRIBUTION: ALGERNON C. SWINBURNE, “Super Flumina Babylonis,” The Complete Works of Algernon C. Swinburne, vol. 2, p. 106 (1925). From http://www.bartleby.com/73/375.html
‘The History of Ruth’ Project is more than memory. As an expert, disciplinary-trained, published, historian, I hate how a person can confuse memory with history. ‘Hate’ may seem a too-stronger word, but although there is no vindictiveness against any person, there is bitterness towards a manufactured ignorance (not a reasoned scepticism) where politicians, supported by foolish and pompous theorists, abandon concepts of truth, evidence, logic, and critical thinking. It may not appear to be kind and empathetic making such criticism at the start, but good history combines empathy and analysis, ‘heart and mind’ (it is all consciousness!). Memory is not good at making such balanced and tied-together distinctions. The older we get, and as the past fades into the distance, our memories become dim; at our worse, we become dim-witted. It happens to the best of us, and even historians. We romanticize our own past in glowing terms and demonise the past of others (or vice versa). We get confused, and diminishing memory gives us stories of a fictionalised past. Some these foolish theorists, mentioned above, then come to the conclusion that history is impossible; that we cannot possibly have accounts of the past unaffected by limited subjective memory, and so all stories are fictions.
However, such global skepticism is self-defeating. We do live in a real world which has a real past, not one that is ‘just made up’, and not one limited to the memories of an elite few. How do we know? Well, there are good philosophical websites that can provide answers to skepticism and beliefs about certainty. The point here is that Ruth was a real person, and her story is a history for those of us who share in that story. Yes, there is interpretation, theoretical selection of evidence, and contestable facts, but for all that history is truer than memory. The fact that memory itself is a major component of the history also does not defeat its purpose of bring a real past to life. It only means that our success for a history is always partial and revisable. As a historian, I can bring Ruth back to life, but not as fiction where one presupposes that she (or he) can conjure a ghost. To see Ruth as a ghost is to scare the hell out of us; a nightmare. No, I can bring Ruth back to life as a history lived. It is memory, but much more. It is amalgamation of many stories, from many perspectives of those who knew Ruth. The historian’s craft is taking those fragments to produce a continuous narrative from the past to the present. The narrative will be to conjure Ruth as a personal history, as a real person that she was.
It is therefore necessary that memorable things should be committed to writing, (the witness of times, the light and the life of truth,) and not wholly betaken [i.e., committed] to slippery memory which seldom yields a certain reckoning. –
Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634)
ATTRIBUTION: SIR EDWARD COKE, Les Reports de Edward Coke, vol. 1, p. 3 (1660). Spelling modernized. From http://www.bartleby.com/73/1173.html
To know more, take this evolving journey.
An Invitation to Join the Project
How do you explain the life of Ruth? How do you express thanks for her kindness and for your kindness in the hour of sorrow? How can you reach out and provide comfort?
Momentarily, we all struggle to find the words. The words are there, and they just need crafting into narrative. Stories of Ruth are what will explain, express thanks, and provide comfort.
As Ruth’s lover, life-partner, and her historian, I am favoured with a gift. I can bring Ruth alive in the pages of a personal history. It is a gift I happy to share with you, in time.
Like the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, I will build a monument for my late wife, but it will not be a tomb. It will be a monument of a living history. The Taj Mahal is not only the architectural design; it is constructed from sandstone, marble, bronze, paint, stucco, and gemstones. History is constructed from many stories with the skill in the historian’s design.
Would you help me? I would like to apply your stories of Ruth and you to the construction. Great personal histories requires many, many, stories, and I promise that, if you provide the material, you will find your stories somewhere in the edifice.
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“Life is in different stages.
Every stage of life is the foundation for the next stage of life.
Every stage of life must be fully-lived.”
― Lailah Gifty Akita, a Ghanaian woman, founder of the Smart Youth Volunteers Foundation.
Ruth, your life is now extinguished,
But the light remains in our hearts.
Let us be Ruth to each other.
Ruth Elizabeth Buch,
You will exist in our thoughts and kindness.