My lessons with Kathy have resumed and they are going nicely. We met last Monday. I expected we would have to go back to square one, considering we’ve had a two-month break, but she zipped right through our flashcards.
I said, “Wow, you are reading these better than when we met last. What’s up?”
She said, “After you visited, I decided I really wanted to get serious, so I started practicing with the girls inside. They helped me.”
She even brought a thin children’s book written for a second grade level. It was too hard for her, but she was excited to try it nevertheless. We only got through a page or two. She told me a woman who had been in jail before her was also learning to read and she had left the book when she left, so the girls encouraged her to take it home.
She showed me the Happy 40th Birthday cards they made her and I looked at all the encouraging and sweet messages written inside (that Kathy obviously can’t read) and had this overpowering urge to march into jail and start helping every screwed up gal in there. What was truly endearing is how Kathy saves everything that denotes kindness – as if such expressions are few and far between in her world.
We talked a long time. I ask way too many intimate questions, but she is comfortable answering them. (Mark always accuses me of being inappropriately inquisitive and says, “How do you get people to tell you these things? Well Dear, All ya gotta do is ask, and if you are down to earth and try not to be judgmental, people will often share their gut feelings about things. Real conversation is a welcome change from the surface dialogue that we are trained to engage in in social situations. The thing is, few people ever dare talking about anything real.) But sometimes, I embarrass him, I think.
Kathy however, is not embarrassed to talk bluntly to me. She has a childlike honesty and she takes responsibility for her weaknesses and her blunders, something I admire. I won’t go into her history now, but we talked about when and why she experimented with drugs (only started at 36, not as a teen as you would imagine) and her economic difficulties and her attitude about education etc… I am fascinated with her situation and appreciate how she invites me into her world without apologizing for herself or expressing bitterness or frustration about her disadvantages. She is positive and has dreams like everyone else. Life is just what it is for her.
It is a true eye opener to see the world through another individual’s eyes when they come from an entirely different socio-economic group and upbringing.
This morning I am off to work with her again. We are ready to tackle new words and simple sentences, so last night I made a few worksheets for our lessons. I am also going to pick up a Kindergarten and/or first grade book or two with worksheets to fill out. I didn’t want to do this because I didn’t want to be condescending in any way, but she was so excited about her children’s book that I’ve changed my mind.
I said, “I can bring you lots of these sorts of books Kathy, but I didn’t think you would find them very interesting.”
She said, “Anything that helps me learn is interesting to me.”
Talk about a good attitude! Wish my dancers from the past were half as open about doing whatever it takes to grasp a foundation in a subject you intend to master. I’d have worked miracles!
I went through dozens of magazines last night – cooking magazines and women’s magazines – looking for anything that I could use to help her with a lesson. She simply isn’t ready for that yet. (All those damn words with four letters and up… sigh).
There is strength about this woman. She is the “Rocky” of reading. My own “Rudy”. I don’t pass judgment regarding her recent run in with the law. Heck, who am I to think I would be half as sweet or earnest were I born into a situation with her obviously limited opportunities. Frankly, I respect her.Anyway, I won’t bore a reader with a play-by-play account of every lesson, but I did want to say that progress is being made and I am hanging in there, making a small impression in the world in a humble way with this one deserving person. And it feels great. I leave each lesson with a private sense of euphoria – energized and encouraged by my current place in the world and how I’m using my time on earth. Life is what you make it. Not just for yourself, but for all those you rub up against in the process of living