Today, I logged into Facebook and received a punch in the stomach – Julie Ryan, a great and noble woman and one of the people dearest to me on the other side of the Atlantic, unexpectedly passed away.
There are no words to describe Julie. Those who knew her, even a little bit, will never forget her. I never had the privilege of meeting her in person, but nevertheless, she was an enormous spiritual influence in my life. I am firmly convinced that Hashem led me to blogging first and foremost so I could get to know Julie. Though not Jewish, she was the one who first taught me the importance of what Rabbi Nachman from Breslev calls hitbodedut, just being out there alone with G-d and pouring all our feelings and prayers and cares and sorrows, our thankfulness and our fears and dreams, to Him in our own simple words, like a child speaking to their father.
Julie used to have a blog called Eyes of Wonder, where I first found myself on the receiving end of her kind and loving words. She eventually stopped blogging in order to protect her family’s privacy and her own time, but in years to come we have kept in touch – occasionally, as Julie was the busy mother of ten children and grandmamma to several grandchildren, and I also got married and started a family of my own – but she was in my thoughts very often. I have a whole notebook, which I treasure, filled with inspirational quotes from Julie’s blog, and excerpts from emails she had sent to me. Here is one, which I know she wouldn’t mind me sharing:
“Dear precious Anna, I have written you so many letters in my heart (and have a couple in my saved drafts folder, that never got completed and sent along—as I seem to always try and write a *longer* letter than time actually allows, then end up sending nothing–please forgive me for that, my dear friend). So, this morning I am sending along much, much, love to you—and an enormous thank-you for sharing your beautiful life and family with me, with all of us. We treasure you and have been so very blessed and honored as you have shared your beautiful wedding and priceless gift of your baby (and the exciting journey with all the sweet steppingstones along the way to actually holding your jewel in your arms and taking him/or her to your breast). ((Anna)) thank-you for continuing to share with me/us, even though at times life has not permitted me the time to respond as I would have so liked to. Thank-you for being my friend, for always thinking the best and hoping the best, and freely giving from your heart. I am so grateful that it is so.”
I am torn between sorrow for Julie’s passing, and thankfulness for there having been such a woman, mother and friend in the world.
I will conclude this with a poem Julie loved, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Out in the Fields with God. It just about summarizes her simple, childlike faith, and the very essence of her being:
The little cares that fretted me,
I lost them yesterday
Among the fields above the sea,
Among the winds that play,
Among the lowing of the herd,
The rustling of the trees,
Among the singing of the birds,
The humming of the bees.
The foolish fears of what might pass
I cast them all away
Among the clover-scented grass,
Among the new-mown hay,
Among the hushing of the corn,
Where drowsy poppies nod,
Where ill thoughts die and good are born —
Out in the fields with God.
Image: Grey Havens by Carel de Winter