Books / March 16, 2017

That Time Russ Ramsey Made Me Cry

I am not a crier. It’s not that I am afraid to cry or to admit to crying. I certainly don’t think crying is weak. It’s just that tears don’t come easily for me.

But Russ Ramsey made me cry. Russ is a friend and Russ is writer, or should I say a writer. He can write the sober out of a Southern Baptist church the irony out of an East Nashville hipster. And he can write me to tears.

Russ sent me his latest book, Struck: One Christian’s Reflections Encountering Death, several months ago, before it was released. He asked me to endorse it, and since he’s a good friend I was happy to do so. It was an ambush. The manuscript I waded into thinking I would enjoy and recommend happily was surgery and medicine and therapy. Of course, since it’s his reflections on mortality and mourning and recovery after near heart failure and open heart surgery, that makes sense. But it was all those things for me.

I read it one week after I moved out of the home I shared with my now ex-wife. My marriage had just ended (I reflected on that here). I was grieving but wasn’t fully aware of it. I was hurting but didn’t entirely feel it. I was moving forward but mainly because life just sort of does that without permission. I had hope but couldn’t have articulated it.

Struck was precisely the book I needed but didn’t know it.

The best memoirs tell one person’s story and the reader’s story all at once. They connect experientially and truthfully beyond the details of time and place or even the specifics of the event. To ask what they are “about” is to miss the point altogether – because they are about all the ways they speak to the reader. This what Struck did for me.

Russ’s account of sickness and health, of marriage and parenting, of friendship, of pain and misery, of recovery and its long road, of faith and dependence was his story. But it was my story. Or at least it was where my story could go. It was true and beautiful and hopeful, and I needed nothing more than truth and beauty and hope. Through the pages of this book he taught me to lament, and in lament there is healing. Without lament there is arrested development and soul stagnation. He offered hope and a little humor too. Come to think of it, the latter makes the former even brighter.

I read Struck in a single evening. My only difficulty in reading it was that it’s hard to see pages through tears, old stored up tears that needed permission to depart. Struck gave the permission because pain and fear were shared. In a sense it ushered me into hope and healing, or to a new place in them.

Struck is captivating and life-giving, but not light or trite. It is the best sort of heavy, the sort that anchors you and gives some ballast to your soul. It tugs at your soul. It shows what is good and real and invites you in rather than telling you what to think and what order to think it in. I devoured it because I was starving for what it had to say and because Russ delivered it with craft and precision and pleasantness.

For you who are grieving, this is for you. For you who are dried up, this is for you. For you who fear, this is for you. For you who are in the midst of trouble, this is for you. For you who anticipate trouble, this is for you. For you who are climbing out of trouble, this is for you. It is not a book about anything any more than a window is about what you see through it. And what you see through Struck will lift your soul, though it might be through tears.

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