I have a host of thoughts and emotions as I conclude these 40 days of operating at a low level of literacy. I’m sure that more insights are to come, but here are the ones that I’m most mindful of as I re-adjust to the world as a functionally literate adult:
I’ve had to be more dependent upon others than I have in a very long time these past few weeks and I am relishing my new-found independence. I can cook with recipes again, look up a basketball schedule online, send out e-mails to my running group about this week’s training run, plan for an upcoming vacation on my own, type in directions on my phone’s GPS, finally read the health care bill that’s been passed, send and read texts , etc. These are seemingly simple tasks to some but monumental to those who are struggling with literacy. And, it is so great to be able to do these things again.
I’ve found myself absolutely devouring books, magazines, blogs, Bible verses, Wikipedia articles, liturgy and even things like billboards and the nutritional information on the cereal box. In some ways I feel like I did when I was in elementary school and finally able to read my first chapter book (it was The Baby-sitters Club if you must know), empowered and thrilled by the new world that has been opened up to me. Today I finished a book in one sitting and can’t event remember that last time I did so! The ability to read & write is a gift and one that I confess I’ve taken for granted for most of my life. It feels truly liberating to have access to so much knowledge and insight again.
My predominant thought though is this: adult learners are some of the bravest people I know. It is no small thing to navigate our world without this basic skill. It requires immense courage to admit to friends, family or a literacy organization that you need help in the areas of reading and writing. Further, it requires sheer determination and humility to acquire these skills at a point in life when responsibilities abound, time is scarce and those teaching you are often your peers.
The stories of the individuals I’ve been privileged to tutor are equally gut-wrenching and inspiring: imagine having never darkened the halls of a school building and making the decision at the age of 80 to learn to read. Imagine having flown presidents and dignitaries all over your home continent and having to take on two, hourly jobs to make ends meet because you now reside in a country that doesn’t speak your native language. Imagine wanting to read for entertainment and for knowledge but having children’s books as the only resource available at your reading level. Imagine being in the highest, socioeconomic class and having people assume that because you’re wealthy you must be educated and therefore the only people you’ve been able to tell about your struggle are those at the literacy center. Imagine being paid a wage below the legal minimum and unable to read at a high enough level to determine what rights you are entitled to. Imagine finally working up the courage to get help and then being told that the average wait time for a tutor is two years. These are the realities for so many of the amazing, resilient individuals I’ve met these past few years and my experience these past forty days has only heightened my admiration and respect for them.
This Easter, as I reflect upon Jesus and his ongoing work of redemption in the world, my prayer for those struggling with literacy is this: may God grant you the strength and the courage to confront the darkness that’s currently around you and with his help and the help of others, may that darkness be beautifully redeemed by the illumination that literacy provides.