Happy International Literacy Day! It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t have a book in my hand. As the years have gone by, I’ve slowly realized just how much I take literacy and education for granted. I was fortunate to grow up with college-educated parents who spent their lives teaching and mentoring others. It seemed only natural that I would do the same. As I reflect on literacy this day, it becomes more apparent to me just how much reading has changed my life.
Before my adoption, books were the one thing that allowed me to enter my own little world and escape reality. Even though I couldn’t really read much at that age, I would hide away in my room or foster homes and flip through pages of books, even coloring books, and make up stories surrounding the images. Once I got older, books became my way of connecting to others. Due to my unique experiences in life such as my adoption, the fact that I was home-schooled, and even just living out in the boonies on a farm as an only child, I found it hard to relate to kids I knew. Instead, I took books with me everywhere and sought out others who loved reading, writing, or acting out our favorite scenes. As a child, books allowed me to satiate my love of learning but also kept me entertained in ways tv and video games never could. With Nancy Drew, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Mary Higgins Clark, I tracked clues to solve puzzling mysteries and thrilling crimes. Alice and Anne Shirley guided me through Wonderland and the White Way of Delight to romantic adventures beyond… some real and some imagined. I lived vicariously through classic literature and felt particularly close to characters in Dickens, Austen, Bronte, Tolkien, and Lewis novels. Poets like Dickinson, Teasdale, ee cummings, Plath, T.S. Eliot, Poe, Angelou, Wilde, Ginsberg, Rilke, and Bukowski lit little fires of emotion deep in my heart, keeping me awake long into the night to contemplate my character, desires, and own struggles and experiences. As I gradually entered my teens and adulthood, desperate memoirs of people coping with depression, alcoholism, mental health issues, various addictions, broken families, and countless other problems cluttered my end table. I wanted to feel what they felt, broaden my knowledge of various cultures, and deepen my ability to empathize with all lifestyles and hardships. Rhetoric and studying the philosophies of English became an addiction, and I avidly read famous speeches in an effort to capture the power and magic words can weave. Reading is my life. I cannot fathom the idea of not having a book nearby.
Here and Now
Years have passed since I sat curled up with Winnie the Pooh and delved into fairy tales for the first time. I currently work as the executive director and program administrator for a nonprofit that specializes in tutoring adults in reading and writing. The majority of the students I place are in their forties and fifties and read at a kindergarten level. They do not have the same experiences with reading that I do; in fact, their experiences are full of fear and dread. Their shame, self-doubt, and low esteem because they feel “stupid” and uneducated due to their lack of literacy have impacted me greatly and twisted my heart in a way that ensures I will always advocate for education. I never realized how much I take learning for granted, and it never occurred to me how differently my life would be without the advantage of literacy and communication. Being able to use my love of reading and learning to help them conquer their fears and reach their goals has been immensely rewarding. My job allows me to partner with local colleges, libraries, schools, and other nonprofits in order to build a stronger community, and every day the people I meet and work with through those partnerships inspire me. My time as an adult in this world has brought amazing friends into my life, nearly all of whom work as teachers or librarians and have a deep love for reading as well. Literacy shapes every aspect of my being; my degree in English Education, my faith in God and ability to study the Bible and spread the gospel, the jobs I choose, the businesses I support and their charitable donations towards education, even some of the places I visit while off adventuring. Everything I have and nearly everything I’ve done stems from a deep love and respect for literacy.
So now I ask you, dear reader– how has literacy changed your life? What special moments can you recall that involve reading or books? Let’s chat in the comments below.