I love to read. Reading is one of the things that I could never, ever, take for granted. It’s a privilege and an honour to be able to read in this world. Too many people cannot do this seemingly simple thing. Illiteracy is a huge problem. And I’m not just talking about third world countries; it’s a problem right here, right now, in my own country, my own community.
I don’t remember not being able to read or write, really. I do remember the pride I felt at being able to read and write when I was young. I was one of the kids in class whose hand always shot up at the chance to read aloud in class. I loved seeing the little black characters on the page and turning them into words. Turning the words into stories and information was, to me, an amazing magic.
Reading challenged me in ways that I didn’t expect. New words thrilled me. Applying the rules of English (loose as they may be at times) and figuring out a word that I had not come across before made me feel good. It still does!
One time in grade 4, I had a reading assignment. I can’t remember exactly what I had to read, but for some reason, I knew in advance that I was going to have to read it out loud in class. I was excited. Until I came across a word that just stumped me. I could not figure out what it was. The word was determined, but I read: deeter-minded. Over and over again, while practising to perfect my inflection, I got to the word determined and read it wrong. I knew it was wrong, but my budding young pride would not allow me to ask for help. I was stubbornly set on getting it on my own.
The morning that I was supposed to read the assignment dawned without enlightenment. I grew nervous. For the first time since learning to read I was afraid to read this particular assignment out loud.
Then the moment arrived and the teacher called my name. I stood up beside my desk and opened my book. I cleared my throat. I licked my lips. My tummy tightened. And I started to read.
Determined, my new nemesis, fell about three quarters of the way or so through the passage. I read slowly, speaking clearly – as I was taught to do – thankful that I had practiced so much that the fact that my mind was reeling, trying to figure out what the word was, went unnoticed. I paused at the beginning of the paragraph with the strange new word in it, took a deep breath and told myself that I was determined to get it.
And the light flipped on!
With great confidence I forged ahead and when I got to that word, I said it right. I remember looking up from the page at the teacher for any sign that I had screwed up. I hesitated briefly, waiting for her to correct me. But she did not. She simply smiled encouragingly. As I finished reading the assignment, I did a little happy dance inside. That was the moment when I realized how truly incredible the ability to read is. And I will never forget it!
Since then I have read hundreds of books. I read for the stories. I read for the lessons in the stories. And I read for the challenges they present. Whether that is a new word to add to my vocabulary, a new perspective or a new idea, reading is a connection to the world – and many other worlds!
It saddens me to see young people (and not so young people) who struggle with reading and writing. I wish I had a wand that I could wave to give them the magic of literacy. How much better would this world be if everyone had this blessing and could use its magic?
Much, I think!