“It’s not the length of life, but the depth of life,” essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson was fond of saying.
Scores of folks — some of them too young to read Emerson — seemed to know the wisdom of that Wednesday, instinctively or by parental prodding. So they got dressed, mostly in white, and made their way to Akron’s Hardesty Park for a noon “flash mob” celebration of a rare and beautiful friendship that’s already left indelible marks on their hearts.
It was a heartfelt gathering hastily arranged by Crystal Pirri of Suffield Township, meant to surprise and blanket Ruth (Radney, Yoder) Barnes with love. Barnes — formerly of Holmes County, Cuyahoga Falls and most recently Wooster — has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Ruth, who will be 61 next month, is known as a friend to many and an exceptional mentor in the home-schooling community, and runs Uncommon Classes, teaching many home-schoolers over the years. Ruth, who married Dave Barnes last September, was diagnosed a few weeks ago with “inflammatory breast cancer, which is one of the most aggressive cancers,” she wrote to those close to her.
“When it was discovered it had already metastasized into my brain and lungs. The brain was by far the most serious … I’m undergoing radiation (three more treatments) and taking steroids to reduce the swelling. I decided not to go the chemo route, and instead hospice will be here to help me make the most of every minute and to allow me to spend my time doing things I love with people I love.”
The news hit everyone hard.
“When I found out, I was moved to do something incredible for her, to let her know just how important she is in my life,” Crystal said.
The women met online when Barnes began posting on Crystal’s website, http://welovegratitude.com. “We had a ‘gratitude get-together’ in May of 2010 when I actually ‘met’ her,” Pirri said. “Through her gratitude lists on the site and visiting her in Peninsula (she worked at Elements Art Gallery on the weekends) we developed a friendship. … I was home-schooled (in Montana) through high school, so we connected over that.”
Invitations go out
The more Crystal said she thought about Ruth’s health crisis, “the less I could keep it to myself. I wanted to do something that everyone who’s been touched by her can be part of it. The idea of a flash mob was born. I would love to see a huge crowd of Ruth’s friends singing and dancing to her to Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend.”
So Facebook invitations went out, and a call here and a call there.
They didn’t disappoint. Men, women, teens and even little children poured onto the grass Wednesday at Hardesty Park.
Crystal — cool and confident in a white eyelet sundress — stood in front of those assembled to do what she called “one quick run through” at 11:45 a.m. of the choreography, mostly an easy-to-do pantomime.
“I chose the song by visiting the musicians she [Barnes] had ‘liked’ on Facebook — Carole King, Carly Simon, James Taylor,” Crystal said. “I read the lyrics to many of their songs, and when I came to You’ve Got a Friend, I cried. I knew that was the one.”
This friendship circle of more than 80 people proved to be quick studies.
Jasmine and Gabriella Falconer of Akron, 4 and 6 respectively, were front and center representing their Mommy, Demetrius, a dear friend of Ruth’s who couldn’t be there. They even wore signs around their necks that said so.
Flash mob begins
Kylia Radney, 23, who works at the nearby CVS store, took her mother to the park, telling her it seemed like a good day for a drive.
As soon as they alighted from the vehicle and took seats under a shelter, the folks in white came together like shavings to a magnet when the whistle blew, and assumed their rehearsed positions as Carole King’s voice began to move them and her:
When you’re down and troubled
And you need some loving care
And nothin’, nothin’ is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come runnin’ to see you again.
April Rivera and her daughter Isabella, 8, of Canton, embraced and acted out the “running” position like the others.
Tre’Shawn Griffin, who volunteered with Ruth and her daughters (Kylia and 18-year-old Kari) on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s Polar Express holiday train ride, added white sunglasses to his attire, saying, “Ruth is always happy, always with a big smile.”
Nettie Miller of Hartville has known Barnes since they attended Highland High School in Berlin: “She has had a great impact on so many children. I applaud her for that. She’s lived an exemplary life, like an open book. She even blogged about the mistakes she’s made. … I’m here representing our class. She was a special girl in high school who has turned out to be quite the leader. I wanted to support her and to just let her know she’s loved by many.”
Lara Rininger of Jackson Township, who came to know Ruth through her home-schooling blog, calls her “a great source of support and inspiration.”
Michelle Riley of Akron, who attended with her mother Linda Riley of Cuyahoga Falls, said she was drawn to the celebration “because I love the Lord and all of his people. … We are important not for what we drive or where we live or what we do for a living. What’s important is essence of who we are.”
Akron resident Carol Bailey Floyd, founder of the local Laughter Club, has known Ruth since the 1970s. “She’s a powerhouse of love! I have never heard her say one unkind word about anyone in that time.”
Tears of joy
As these friends danced through another verse, they began to make their way toward the woman in red, each presenting her with a different flower with their name or a personal message on it, and placing colorful beads around her neck. Her lap proved too small to accommodate all of the flowers which, according to Ruth, is a beautiful thing.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” she kept saying over and over again, blinking back tears of joy as she lingered on the song’s message:
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come runnin,’ runnin,’ yeah, yeah, to see you again.
Lesson here? When happily ever afters aren’t to be, it’s important to create as many happy-anyway moments that we can.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or firstname.lastname@example.org.