By Robert R. Schwarz
OUT OF THE DEPTHS I CALL TO YOU, LORD; LORD,
HEAR MY CRY ! ( PSALM 130:2 )
FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT OF FAITH. ( 1 TIMOTHY 6:12 )
BLESSED IS THE MAN WHO PERSEVERES UNDER
TRIAL. ( JAMES 1:12 )
Peter Ruddy, age 54, sometimes rises at 3 a.m. and to say his morning prayers followed by a decade of the Rosary . Since diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in October, 2011, he says he gets by well with 4 ½ hours of sleep. Most mornings he's up at 5 a.m. , before his two-story Cape Cod home with the large red front door is filled with the voices of sons Peter and John and daughter Clare—all high school students—and wife Susan. The senior Peter then hikes a short distance to a McDonalds for coffee with friends. He likes to walk and at times he'll trek five or six miles. But this morning it's a quarter-mile walk to Mass at the St. James Catholic church in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
|Reading at a weekday Mass|
By 7:30, Peter is sitting in a front pew , waiting for the an altar server to ring the bell that sounds Mass. Before Mass is over, he'll likely have to leave his pew for a brief , roundtrip walk to the back of the church. "My MS," he says, " makes it difficult for me to stand up for any length of time."
On this particular day it is his turn as lector , and he will stand—he's six-feet, one inch tall—at the lectern and read verses from the Old Testament and the Psalms. One phrase from Peter and you know he's British- born and educated. He articulates his words perfectly with a resonance that brings to mind dialogue from the televised "Downton Abbey." ( Though he grew up 15 miles from Shakespeare's home town , Stratford-upon-Avon, Peter admits he's never read one of the bard's dramas. )
Peter will spend the rest of the day reading—he says he reads magazines voraciously, but seldom reads a book cover to cover , unless written by Catholic convert Graham Green—and journaling ; there will be more walking and then , at 3 p.m. , "divine office " prayers and more Rosary decades. " I don't like my routine to be altered in any way, " he avers. Much of his happiness , he says, comes from prayer and solitude. He describes his occupational skill as a "senior buyer" for industry.
|In front of church at his first communion |
in Coventry , England
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially debilitating disease in
which your body's immune system eats away at the protective
sheath (myelin) that covers your nerves. Damage to myelin
causes interference in the communication between your brain,
spinal cord and other areas of your body. This condition may
result in deterioration of the nerves themselves, a process that's
not reversible ( By the Mayo Clinic staff ) … More than 400,000
people in the United States have MS. An estimated 2,500,000
around the world have MS. ( from a report by the Multiple Sclerosis
Peter was candid about a life smitten with unhappiness that has left him with a long-term disability and current unemployment—as well as forty pounds under his normal weight of 225. A large piece of unhappiness he received three and half years ago when told that his MRI scan showed multiple sclerosis. " I could not walk or use my legs , " he wrote when preparing for a retreat at St. James. " I remember that night wanting desperately to be angry with God...I mean, I don't miss Mass ; I'm a lector at St. James; so what in the hell is going on ?! I wanted to be like Jacob [ who ] …wrestled with an Angel of the Lord. But I could not…Although God seemed so very distant…it turns out that he was closer to me then that at any other time in my life; he was knitting me back together in His supernatural womb."
Nowadays Peter says , "I don't let my MS define me; I define it…I embrace it more as a friend than an enemy. " He adds, however, "when you have MS , it's like your brain is attacked by a tsunami. "
Major Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent
feeling of sadness and loss of interest….it affects how you
feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional
and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal
day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if
life isn't worth living. More than just a bout of the blues,
depression isn't a weakness, nor is it something that you can
simply "snap out" of. (By the Mayo Clinic staff)….About 9 percent
of American adults from all walks of life suffer from some
form of depression. In fact, major depression is the leading
cause of disability for Americans between the ages of 15 and
44, according to the CDC. Understanding these very real
depression statistics helps paint a fuller picture of the
impact of depression in America. (Medically reviewed by
Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH for a 2014 report from the Major
Depression Resource Center. )
|In 1997 with 18-month-old Peter junior and one-week- old John|
Peter's depression would normally emerge in September or October and stay with him through April or May. " Some years it was bearable; I wouldn't miss any time from work; other years , I would have to have a complete break [from work] for several weeks and occasionally a hospitalization. It was awful just trying to get through the day…It's almost impossible to do anything. You're so far in the depth of your despair that there's no way you can get out. If in November you want to look forward to springtime in May , you can't because you believe you will still have your depression."
Peter remembers that often the depression was so overwhelming that he couldn't even pray; he didn't want to live. For 20 years he took medication but it lost its effectiveness in five or six years , and new meds would have to be prescribed.
He reports today, however, that he hasn't had a bout with major depression for two years. His advice for people with major depression: " Take care of your diet, your health—and exercise . " Peter also stresses the importance of seeking professional help, understanding the nature of major depression, and having a "spiritual dimension to one's health. "
Born on a Small Irish Island
Peter's grandparents and parents were born on the small ( six miles long and three wide ) Clare Island off the west coast of Ireland . Its many rocky outcroppings gives it a "moonscape" appearance, says Peter, who visited family members there last year . According to Peter, the tragic Irish Potato Famine in 1835 eventually reduced the Island's then population of 5,000 to its current 350 residents, many of whom today are sheep farmers. His parents were Catholic . "I commend both of them for passing on the faith . " Regarding his five siblings ( three sisters and two brothers ), Peter says, " I suppose I'm the only one who has kept the faith. "
In 1948 after the World War II, the Ruddy family moved to England , where Peter went to High School Upon graduation, he went to work in a factory as did his father.
His father has played a major role in Peter's faith life. While on night maneuvers in a peat bog with the Irish Army which he had joined at age 16, his father contacted pneumonia; it afflicted him for most of his life . Stricken in 1968 with double pneumonia and tuberculosis, he was given last rites in a hospital. He went home to die but recovered. A parish priest suggested that Peter's father go to Lourdes to give thanks for his miraculous recovery. He did.
"Once there, " Peter wrote in a memoir, " he was immersed in the holy waters daily…He returned two weeks later a changed man, a man that had been totally and utterly immersed in God's loving care. This was the first time I experienced my spiritual Father's loving care for my earthly father, a gift that kept on giving throughout my life. "
Later in England, Peter did office work at a Rolls Royce plant , which sent him to night school for further training. In April of 1992 he immigrated to America at age 32 to marry Susan, whom he had met incidentally ten years earlier on a Chicago CTA bus in which he was riding with his two teenage cousins . When Susan, then 18, got on the bus, she recognized the two cousins from her neighborhood and asked why they weren't in school. When they replied they were showing the sights of Chicago to Peter, she expressed skepticism. Peter then vouched for his cousins' honesty . When Susan exited the bus, she unexpectedly turned to Peter and asked, " What are you doing for lunch ?"
With that memory now making him smile, Peter looks across the library table at me and says , " that just blew me away…these Americans , I said to myself."
Honeymoon, then Egypt and Bible School
The couple honeymooned in South Carolina for two weeks. One day Susan saw a help-wanted ad in the New York Times for a logistics coordinator to work in Egypt for a global quasi-secret organization—as Peter describes it—called Multinational Force and Observers . The organization consisted of peacekeeping troops for Egypt and Israel. Peter flew to New York City for an interview and got the job because, he says, the firm was impressed with his knowledge of it . Peter had spent hours at the Chicago Harold Washington Library researching the firm's operations.
But things just didn't work out for Peter , who , once on the job in Northern Sinai for two months, declined a directive to relocate to Israel, which he thought unsafe for Susan . His wife now commutes from the Ruddy home to Lincolnshire, Illinois , where she is employed as a company resource manager.
Back in Chicago, Peter enrolled in a four-year curriculum in Bible study at the Chicago Catholic Scripture School of the archdiocese . " And I've been continuing my education ever since, " he says with obvious pride . For example, he says he's "always been very keen to understand other faith traditions. " He counts Muslims, Jews , and Indians among the friends he has made. " From the Hindus I learned humility and service, and from the atheists I learned to question things. I learned we're all brothers and sisters. " Peter has three validated passports: British, Irish, and American.
A meeting with some monks in 1984 during a retreat in England he claims as a life milestone. One of his friends is a priest in England and was best man at Peter's wedding. " My friends told me I had a different way of looking at the world ." When asked to be specific , Peter replied by quoting what he considered the greatest compliment ever paid him : It came from a foreign student who told him how very "eloquent" Peter was. And when asked what has shaped him most in life, he replies without hesitating, " My faith and my sense of humor [which ] is very avant-garde… but it's me and it's very English. " He would like his tombstone epitaph to be: He was a nice guy. He listened. He had compassion. He says he does pray for more humility and compassion.
He also wants to complain less. " Since my MS, I began to fall in love with myself all over again, not in a perverted way, but in a generous way and to appreciate my faults. Although a handicap, MS …frees me to be more humble and to be with people who interest me. I have no time for small talk. "
He aims to fight harder in spiritual warfare against demonic spirits. " The closer you come to the Lord, the more angry the devil becomes, and then he brings in his best team ." Peter is looking for a spiritual director. Meanwhile, he attends a faith group of men who meet at 6 a.m. Saturday mornings in the church basement. "It's one of my great bonuses, " he says. "It's been a tremendous inspiration for me to meet like-minded people. "
In the closing moments of our interview, Peter credited his father as a major inspiration during his own his life's journey. " He was a man with a "great sense of humor and a very compassionate heart who was prepared to get down in the trenches with you. " There were a few last words about his family , particularly daughter Clare . With a twinkle in his hazel eyes , Peter said, "She's 14 going on 44 ; she keeps me young." Then came a final, fitting tribute to his father: " From him I got my love for children."
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© 2014 Robert R. Schwarz