Besides getting some valuable bonding time with Chandler, the primary motivation for our recent camping trip I’m writing about this week was to meet with Anne Marie Ritchie in Boise, Idaho so that Chandler could receive the blessing from “RonAnneMarie” as our other two children had. I write “RonAnneMarie” because that is how Ron and Anne Marie Ritchie have always signed their names as an expression of their oneness in marriage. So when I lost the opportunity for Ron’s blessing because of his passing last month, I realized having Anne Marie bless Chandler was no less significant.
I must give my wife credit for making this happen. I write like the wise one, but I am not. This would not have happened had she not insisted, because I was dragging my feet. To be sure, we could have gone and met them in Menlo Park, California anytime between last October, when we realized Ron was day-to-day with hospice until the coronavirus hit in March, because he had rallied and was doing relatively well. And when they moved to Boise in May and Ron passed away in July, this visit was still on the table even though we had missed the window for a simple day trip to Menlo Park, 400 miles away. (Boise is over twice that far at 875 miles.) No problem. We’ll just turn it into a sometimes camping, sometimes not, road trip.
This blessing stuff is serious business — on a par with baptisms, weddings, funerals and christenings. Maybe not for everybody, but we’ve made it so. It is certainly important in the Jewish tradition and a regular event in the Old Testament, usually carried out from the deathbed of a patriarch. It involves not only a blessing but a prophesy. For Jacob’s twelve sons, it established what their ensuing tribes would represent, even who would lead.
Believe me, Anne Marie did not disappoint. She went well beyond expectations. I was looking for basically a prayer for Chandler at the end of our visit; what we got was a true ceremony with things for Chandler to take home and remember the moment forever.
First, she gave him three typewritten pages of his well-thought-out blessing slipped into a clear plastic folder for safe keeping. Then she read from it — the first and last few paragraphs and recommended the rest of it for later when he was ready. Anne Marie treaded carefully over this material. She knew Chandler is a deeply spiritual, but private, person, not necessarily prone to giving you the answers or the reactions you want, when you want them. She respected him for that and did not presume upon him in any way. She merely presented what God had given her to give to him.
And one of those things was a small model of a lighthouse. This was for him to remember that a part of his blessing was that he is going to be a lighthouse for many, carrying the light of Christ wherever he goes. This was remarkable in that there was already something special he knew about the metaphor she chose. He’s been drawn to lighthouses way before this. He has even painted one on the wall of his bedroom. The connection gave me chills. And then, finally, she prayed for him, and for this, she broke through the COVID-19 distancing we had been respecting up until then, and ran her hands all over Chandler’s face as she prayed for him.
The contents of that paper remain private to Chandler and may stay that way. It’s entirely up to him. And that is fine, because I could tell by his face that the whole experience had moved him deeply.
When we left, there were tears in her eyes (and, I must say, mine, too). She had truly loved carrying this out and loved the fact that we would travel that far to complete the pilgrimage. Indeed, I felt, throughout this visit, like we had braved some high mountain trek to gain the wisdom of a revered spiritual guru. She would certainly deny she was that. But was it just Anne Marie? No … in fact, as she had signed the papers … it was not Anne Marie. It was “RonAnneMarie.” As it always has been.