It was most likely my last time to see Ron Ritchie. His body is shutting down. They are not trying to treat the cancer, only to keep him comfortable, which they are doing. As of yesterday, at least, he’s in no pain. A few days ago, he slept for six days. But he was surprisingly alert and upbeat when I finally saw him. He was funny, and teaching the word. Just like always. What else would you expect? He had an audience.
He had his old New American Standard New Testament in his hand, the one with the hand-made leather cover from the 1970s. “Is your name in here?” He asked me right off the bat.
“I’m sure it is.” I took it from him and thumbed through it. It was marked up with colored pencils and certain words and phrases that had been bolded with the Koh-I-Noor ink pens that were a “requirement” of our internship. These are high quality art pens that deliver black ink to a very tiny tip so you can actually bold letters in the text. In fact, these pens were so “spiritual” then that I think the only places you could get them were at art stores or the local Bible bookstore where they must have stocked them just for us.
Ron’s favorite go-to passage is now John 14: “Let not your heart be troubled …” “It’s all there,” he says. “All the truths about faith and eternal life — it’s all there and it’s all very real. It’s just my turn now.”
I hear he became pretty famous at the hospital where he gave away his books and chatted with everybody. His favorite line in the hospital was from one of my songs: “Everyone wants to get to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” He kept repeating this to everyone and he said the Indian Hindu doctors loved it the most.
His other favorite thing to do in the hospital was to say if someone looks alone like they don’t know what to do, you should just go up and kiss them. He tried it a couple times and he said they loved it, but they tried to hate it. Ron is a disruptive personality; you just never know what to expect.
It was like gold to be there. I had him mostly to myself along with his two sons and one Millennial grandson, who, true to form, hung onto every word I was writing about Ron.
Finally, a very dear friend and Chairman of Ron’s non-profit ministry came with his son and daughter-in-law. When Ron signaled that he was tiring, he asked his friend to pray, and the friend barely made it through, sobbing uncontrollably throughout.
I must say, the takeaway from this whole experience was clearly the power of the truth. Ron was almost impatient with the tears, only because from his perspective there is no loss, no fear in death, only gain. Both he and his wife were visibly buoyed by the strength of faith. For us, who are not facing death as imminently as they are, it’s frightening, and we talk about faith, by faith. For them, it takes no faith to have faith. Faith is it. It is the thing itself. As the writer of Hebrews says, faith is the substance of things hoped for. It’s faith more real than faith, if that makes any sense.
It’s a little like another story that came from the hospital. Someone said: “So I hear Ron is not well.” And someone else said: “Gee … someone ought to tell him that.”