by Deselle Thompson
I think Ruth Gruener was a woman who truly understood love. Every word she spoke was somehow always laced with it. I can’t say I knew too much about her outside of her survivor story. The only time I saw her was through brief interviews through Project Witness sessions, but I think I know enough to speak to the effect she has on people. If there’s one thing about Mrs. Gruener, she was going to make you understand love. Maybe it’s because of her secluded time in isolation as a child or a mixture of her human nature but she truly was a loving person. I saw her for 2 years through Project Witness, and each time she was always smiling. I watched kids ask her questions about her trauma and how she’d retell such agonizing events with a distant pain in the back of her mind but always tie it back to love. I believe she said it was a form of healing, retelling her story. She’d always end on a positive note and had a sometimes poetic view of an ideal world that some may call too good to be true.
Sometimes when I hear “we should all be treated equally,” I dismiss it as a cliche. I think it’s an overused statement lacking any nuance. But when Ruth would point to flowers as an example for people to follow, it would make me a little more tolerant. She lived a long life learning many lessons and was more than willing to share them with the younger generation. The most important of all lessons to teach was love and peace. Sometimes the message is repetitive to the point of it becoming banal, but the way she said it made it something you really wanted to believe in. Perhaps it was because she knew from a young age that we were all on borrowed time. Maybe it’s because she grew older with every Google Meet and school assembly. Either way, she tried her best to make it known. I want to say she left the world in a better place than where it was before.
I want to say we will carry on the fight for love and peace and eventually achieve the world she wants for the sake of every child that has or will go through an experience like hers. But I know that would be a lie. I don’t think we will reach Ruth’s ideal anytime soon, but that’s not to render her message powerless.
Ruth’s story is supposed to make us feel guilt and sadness not for her but ourselves as global citizens. It is supposed to terrify us into action. We need people like Ruth to remind us of our humanity.