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Category Archives: Humble Gifts

An amendment to my last blog . . .

Finishing what I started this morning . . .


 


I got my new sponsored child today. Her name is Meaza Zergaw and she is  from Meki town at the Southern Shewa region of Ethiopia. She was born October 5, 2001. Both parents are alive and live together. Her mother is a housewife and her father a day laborer. The family earns 400 a year. They come from the Guraghe ethnic group and they follow orthodox Christian religion. Meaza is in kindergarten and likes counting numbers and reading alphabets, doing errands and loves playing with toys (what 5 year old doesn’t.) That about covers the biography they sent me.


 


Now, for her picture. This is a beautiful little girl with delicate features and light toffee skin. Her eyes are deep brown, earnest, but her expression is horribly grim. This looks more like a mug shot than a picture of a healthy 5 year old. Considering how sad the picture appeared of the boy they sent me, I wonder if they purposely discourage smiles so potential sponsors feel more empathy for these children. Or maybe the long face is a cultural thing, or photography is frightening to young people who do not understand why they are asked to stand in the bright light. Then again, perhaps the photograph comes three minutes after a medical checkup and the participants were just given a shot or a douse of castor oil.  For one reason or another, taking a picture for the sponsor appears to be a dreaded endeavor.


 


Whatever – my goal now will be to get a picture of Meaza smiling. I happen to consider myself gifted at making young girls smile, only without dance as a medium to work with, I understand I am up to a challenge.   


 


I have her picture hanging on the wall by my computer next to my big, steel “It’s all good” sign. Her pitiful little face will remind me to be grateful for my life and all the good things in it. Only, when I look at it, I think I’ll imagine her smiling.  I like to believe, need to believe, all my distant friends are happy. 

Ethiopean friends

   I have been sponsoring Muluken Midesko (a United Christian Children’s Fund participant) for over eleven years now. We exchange letters, and on his birthday and Christmas, I always send an additional 100.00 to enhance his quality of life. Instead of going into a general fund as the monthly sponsorship does to pay for food and education for the children of the community, this money goes to the family personally making it far more intimate gift.
     I think of Muluken often, wondering how different his life is from mine, hoping my small donations do indeed make a difference in his world. Our exchanges, limited as they are, have been fascinating as he asks questions about my world and I try to understand his. 


     It is obvious that the world’s problems are much bigger than any one person can solve, but I think it is vital every person does something to make a dent in the ongoing suffering. It never sits well with me that some people shrug and say, “What can little, old me do about it. The situation over there is awful, but I don’t have much money.”
    Meanwhile, they head out the door to their health club with a walkman and a bottle of water, wearing a pair of new Nike shoes (that for all we know, the Muluken’s of the world labored to make at age 4). The truth is, if we were to see these unfortunate individuals sitting outside our front door, we’d be outraged. We’d feel compassion and we’d take action. But distance allows us to disassociate from grief.  Stories of war ravaged children and starving families seem so far away, and, so storybook horrid, that it doesn’t seem real enough to address in a tangible way. But these atrocities are real, and with the communication vehicles we have today (periodicals, TV, internet, newspapers) the evidence of the world’s disadvantaged is undeniable.


     I am offended by people who have a “we have to take care of our own first,” mentality. Anyone walking on two legs is “one of our own” in my book. I hate all the excuses people make to avoid making even a small sacrifice in the name of humanity. And I don’t think much of people who only care for themselves and their immediate loved ones either. It is, quite plainly, self-serving. For all that one can argue a person is a very caring individual because they take care of friends and family and give a dollar to the Santa ringing the bell in front of Sears every December, I just don’t buy it. We get back something (emotionally) when we nurture “our own”. True compassion demands faith, putting forth effort for those that can’t give you anything back. Not love. Not appreciation. Not even a verbal thank-you.  


     I am on a tangent. Oops. Sorry. The point is, I like to think that one person half a world away is experiencing a better life because I cared. I can’t think of the 20 million people I can’t help, for that will drive me crazy. I just focus on  the one individual I do help. The fact is, sponsoring a child isn’t a big sacrifice. At 40 dollars a month, it involves forgoing one dinner out for people in our socio-economic group. It is actually such a small thing that I am, at times, ashamed I don’t do more.  I mean, I purchase the occasional goat or cow for Heifer International too, but still, I live a pretty cushy life and could do more if I were less selfish. My little monthly donation doesn’t absolve my guilt in letting other children in the world starve either.


     You can bet if our children were starving and we knew that far away others were flippantly spending enough on candy and cookies in one month, as it would take to sustain our near-death children for over a year, we wouldn’t be understanding about it. (Obviously, I think about this stuff a lot. I have this habit of putting myself in another’s shoes, even people who have no shoes, and it tortures me. It is a part of my nature that is difficult to live with.)


      Anyway, this week I got a letter stating I would no longer be sponsoring Muluken. He has “left the system.” His family has moved to another area where better opportunities are available. This notice left me feeling very disturbed. For one thing, I don’t altogether believe this explanation of his falling off the face of the earth so suddenly. Why don’t they tell me where he has gone, or notify me in advance so I can say good-bye? We have been fond acquaintances for many years, after all.


     I am guessing that Muluken turned eighteen and they are excusing him from the program as an adult, or maybe he’s gone off to get involved politically and become one of the individuals creating havoc in this sad country. Perhaps it is worse. Perhaps he died of disease or an accident. I really don’t know if the organization would be honest about these kinds of things, for their only concern is soliciting and maintaining funding. If people like me, comfortable, clueless Americans who appease their guilt by sending a little check once a month, get emotional or disturbed by the reality of what happens with these people, they may decide sponsoring a child is too emotionally disturbing. Some people are in it for the letters and the pictures of the child, after all. And if you feel badly because your little sponsored child hasn’t written a big, fat, letter of appreciation, you might bail.  


     The lack of closure regarding Muluken’s fate is really disturbing to me. I can’t stop thinking about him, and I wonder if he has questions about me. Perhaps he thinks I just stopped sending money. He has pictures of me. Letters. I have to be more than a check to him, and yet, if I was “more” why have I disappeared? If he is eighteen, he may be out of the system, and yet, I could have been given a chance to help him throughout his life. But perhaps that is beyond the mission statement of the organization. It is the United Christian Children’s fund, after all.  And if I were to help Muluken, the adult, it would mean a child somewhere was not getting a chance to be fed and educated and taught life skills with my small donation. Perhaps, my work with Muluken is done. Perhaps he is old enough and prepared enough to get a job and have a family of his own. He doesn’t need me anymore.  Others do.


      The annoying fact is, I don’t know what they told him. Not that I’m implying there is anything malicious about this organization. Only that I wonder if the system is set up to protect the best interest of the collective whole, at the cost of individual intimacy. While I understand the logic in this, it leaves me so unsettled.


      Out of the blue, I was sent a picture of a new, very young, solemn Ethiopian boy to replace Muluken, with a letter urging me to “save” him by continuing my support. A small notice in the letter said Muluken is “no longer my sponsored child”. Unbelievably, I declined. Oh, I didn’t decline helping, of course, only declined the particular child they assigned me without first asking my preference. Guild ridden over the fact that fate may have wanted me to support this particular stranger, I requested a female instead. The truth is, I believe the girls have it far worse than the boys in third world countries, and so, this time around, I’d like to make a personal difference in the life of a woman. I guess you could say, I relate better to the idea of a woman dealing with social expectations and the role of motherhood etc. with limited resources. I will receive the picture and history of my new sponsored girl-child next week.


     In the meantime, I will sip my coffee and stare out over the mountain wondering where Muluken is and what state of health he is in. I will ponder whether or not he kept my pictures or tossed them the day he got them and be curious about whether he has fond thoughts of me, or resentment, or perhaps feels nothing at all. Not that it makes a difference, really. But it would be interesting to know.


    I will begin sending money to a new child this month. I was told on the phone (when I made the change request and the computer spit out a new name for me) that the new child’s birthday is in October. I asked them to immediately take a withdrawal so I wouldn’t miss acknowledging it, and since there is a two-month lag between when a donation is made and when it is received, she will receive this personal “extra” with her Christmas money. It will be a windfall to this family, I’m sure. Since she is young (about 4), we won’t be writing for a few years. But I will send her pictures nevertheless and begin a correspondence just so she knows someone a half a world away is thinking about her. In most cases, it is the mother who you are talking to anyway, and that happens to be the person I worry about most  -the mothers who suffer the painful reality of raising a child without enough resources to do the job. We will be connected by the loosest of threads, at least until such time as the organization decides we are “finished” and they cut our string.


      Sponsoring a child probably makes a lot of people feel good about themselves. But I swear, it stirs up all kinds of conflicting emotions in me. Yet, I couldn’t stop over that. I am committed by nature of my personal morals.


     I’m not going out to dinner tonight, because that is the price of helping one person live better. It is how I will maintain an appetite through all the rest of my meals this month. I could do more, but I could do less. I think what’s most important is that I avoid thinking about the “less” and try to feel good about the “more”. And I must remember that if I can save only one person in a million, it isn’t so important which one. They all deserve help equally.  I must trust that the “one” fate thrusts in my path was put there for a reason. We are meant to be friends, even if it is only for a temporary period of time. 
      The fact is, friends come and go as life pushes us in different directions. But I know that the impact of a friendship


can last long after the active period. Relationships, despite how they fare in the long term, alter your world forever. 

I know that Girl . . . I think

I am always amazed, humbled, by how life experiences alter our world view. I’m not talking about the big, life altering events that impact us with a bang. Obviously things like death, marriage, childbirth, personal catastrophe, witnessing powerful images, experiencing fear, love, fluctuating income, vocation, etc…  will leave a mark our on psyche and shade our view of life. In this case, I’m talking about the subtle things, the tiny encounters and small nuisances that we barely notice, even though they resonate in our soul forevermore. As such, we grow. Evolve. Shift. Our personalities are always being enhanced or diminished, twisted or mellowed by things we see, do, read, or hear.


 


This is why I don’t feel aging is a drag. I don’t particularly like the wrinkles, but I love how living leads us by the hand to deeper knowledge – about the world and about ourselves. If you are the least bit reflective, you can’t avoid growth. Your soul ferments just by being exposed to living. It makes everyday a wonder, an adventure, and if you take the time to consider it, you begin approaching every hour curious to see how it will unfold. Truly, it’s the tiny things that shape our mind and feed us emotionally.


 


Details. Life is cluttered with details that collide and jam up our perspectives, until all we notice is generalizations and preconceived assumptions. I guess this is how we filter so much stimulus to remain functional. But, I’ve learned you can – must – note the details. Relish them. You just have to slow down to be receptive to new input. There is beauty everywhere; something to be grateful for in every situation. And people, situations – life in general – can be entertaining if you maintain a sense of humor and shed the tendency to criticize or judge. I am grateful for the hearty laughs I gain each day from unintentional sources. 


 


 Does anyone really – REALLY- understand everything you do and why, from what coffee drink you order and the tone in which you speak to the server, to what house you live in and who you live with? Does anyone outside of your head know all the millions of comments and events and triggers that made you think and feel and act as you do? Of course not. Yet people judge you without all this information at hand as if they can sum the essence of who you are by one action– which means they “get you” wrong. They may think you competitive or foolish or egotistical or heroic or dull or weak, or a sellout, or adventurous or loving or cruel. When in fact, their perceptions are more about how they feel in a situation and how your existence affects them, than based on any kind of understanding of how you are experiencing life and reacting to its stimulus.


 


And if others can “get you” wrong, it is only logical to assume so too can you be off the mark when you are critical of another person’s actions or choices. Considering you can’t ever know what life is like from another person’s viewpoint, wouldn’t it just be easier to stop holding them up to your benchmark of what is acceptable by your standards, or noble or admirable, and just witness the grand differences in people? Celebrate flaws. Give the world- the individual, a little slack. Assume the best for once.


 


Next time a guy cuts you in line to get his donut first, don’t think him a “dick”, feel sorry for him because he values a donut more than polite exchange and wonder where and why he learned that behavior. Interesting.  Perhaps he was donut deprived as a child, or this donut shop is the only place in his mixed up world where he can assert himself because his wife picks his donuts everywhere else. Perhaps his great grandfather invented the donut, and therefore he resents that he doesn’t get special treatment. Who knows why, in this one moment, he is behaving in non-admirable ways. It doesn’t define him. The guy could be remarkable in all areas unrelated to donuts.


 


There are too many people in the world. We are bound to clash, behave aggressively or competitively. We act out. It is the nature of the beast when cornered or poked at with a stick. Sad but true. Attitude is no one person’s fault. There are just too many people in the world for everyone to live in harmony and since we don’t live in a bubble, we are affected by situations, events, even each other, in ways that contort our personalities.


 


The trick is to know yourself, learn your triggers and try to live true to yourself and your personal ethics. And, of course, to lighten the load of others who may not be self-aware. Make the world a more pleasant place for the glut of people, even if it means stepping aside with a smile to give the donut aggressor his space. With understanding.


 


When you can get past the frustration and general big events that happen around you, perhaps you will begin to notice the less obvious details. Like the fact that the donut man is wearing mismatched socks (ah, he is running late today, no wonder he is acting rude,) or the face of the elderly woman behind him when she looks him up and down and snorts. Funny. 


 


What is my point? I’ve forgotten.  Something must have triggered this, but for the life of me, I don’t know what. Ha. I must have filtered out that detail. I did buy a donut this morning, but no one was rude. I think this began about small things making us change – altering our views.  That must be it. (My mind does ramble . . .)


 


I am in Boston, and while I am doing something I have done for over 9 years, I’m a different person than I was last year. Smarter. More content. Less physically flexible perhaps, and four pounds heavier still (yes, I’m still counting even though, without dance, it shouldn’t matter. Georgia makes me lazy, I think.) I feel somewhat wiser. Definitely more passionate about what I have to say (regarding dance education). But less committed to the need to say it. Curious about the young people choosing dance now, at the beginning of their long, interesting lives. Curious about the competitive dance environment and how newcomers will fare.  Fascinated by how the dance world is changing, molded, dented by technology, social change, communications, everything.  Proud of my part in impacting it. Relieved I can give up the endless quest to stay current and know everything – what everyone is doing in the field. And yet, I can’t give up old habits either as I listen to gossip about the leaders in the business, old comrades and friends. I still care about the changes taking place in the dance world. I wince and worry about the state of the art.


 


I have to resist my habit of storing all this information and ACTING on it.  My mind is awash with ideas, places I could take dance now.  I need to go home to my donkey and gentle breezes to shed this churning in my gut to get involved. For I know that I am different, not because I sold my dance empire and moved to Georgia (big things) but because I have experienced little things. I’ve looked a newborn horse in the eyes and run my hands along his fuzz of mane. I have cooed to a llama so he will stand still as I dig fingers into matted hair that an hour later will be laying at my feet. I now pick things – blueberries, blackberries, wildflowers, chickens, when previously, I didn’t have the time or inclination to devote any of my precious waking hours to leisurely explorations. I have paint in my hair, a small slash of tan that yesterday, made my eyes pop because at first I thought it was gray. Then I smiled, because I recognized that it was the color of the inside of my new writing room’s closet. I have a writing room! In it I will think foolish and great thoughts, write good and bad passages and sit staring out the window watching deer instead of focusing on my computer screen. And all of it will be good. Because I write not to achieve anything specifically – just to investigate what I think and feel (And that is probably the best evidence that I have changed of all.)


 


Yes, I’ve changed – but I wouldn’t say I’ve shed who I used to be. No, it is more as if I’ve crowded a new person into my skin. All these new experiences make a girl more complex. I am not different – I am more.    


 


Opportunity abounds here. Last night, a crew of dance teachers I’ve known for years (and admire) tried to talk me into teaching studio management seminars. They recently paid 1200 for a two day seminar (6000 attendees!) and were talked into a monthly $180 ongoing consultant fee by a new company that preaches they have the formula for dance school financial success. But everyone is of the opinion that Mark and I could do it better – and we wouldn’t be teaching this material theoretically. Our lives, our success, are proof of what we preach. They insisted they learned more over drinks at dinner with me than they did in the seminar. Interesting.


 


I couldn’t resist the bait. I called home and said, “Honey, want to get rich? We could do seminars. I have a handful of people ready to sign up – testimonials and all kinds of supporting evidence. I even have formulated an outline for presenting material. We could do this.”


He said, “Come home. Your llama misses you. Write a book.”


He is smarter than I.


 


I told a friend that what I missed most about my life change was the physicality of dancing everyday. I wish I had a studio on our property. Just for me. Just so I could put on music and let my soul loose.


My friend said, “Why don’t you build one?”


I laughed and said, “My husband won’t go for that. He doesn’t trust me with a viable dance space at my disposal. Thinks that once I have a resource, I am a sucker for the challenge of using it creatively. (He has me down pat.) As it is I’ve hinted at how great it would be for us to develop a serious summer dance camp for fledgling artists. We could build cabins on the grounds and a few studios. We have contacts with all the best teachers in the country. We’ve been organizing dance events for years, designing programs. As such, we could host the best dance camp around. It would be successful and we would only have to work two months a year instead of ten. We’d even be creating a wonderful gift for the dance world.


 


My friend said, “I have 25 kids I’ll commit right now to sending to you next summer.”
Someone else next to her in the limo said, “I have about 30 that would go.”


(I’m doing the math – hummmm…. great potential here for a reasonable investment.)
Tom, a very established teacher (and friend) on staff here said, “I’ll work for you – and spread the word. There is such a need for that kind of program . Sounds fantastic.”


 


So, I told my husband we had a clientele for my vision of a serious dance camp.


He said, “Talk like that and you can’t go to Boston anymore.”


Ha. The offhand things we hear set seeds that influence us. See? He knows this.


 


I told my husband that I want to write a book proposal for a nonfiction book called “The Million Dollar Dance Studio”. A book about studio management and the way to maneuver the minefield of dance education to find success, commercially and artistically. He was quiet and then said, “That would be a good book. Go for it, Hun.”


Wow. He didn’t tell me to go pluck a chicken! Must be that a book doesn’t sound threatening. A book can’t eat your life. It consumes you for a bit, but it’s a finite commitment, a project with an end. Or maybe he was distracted since he was talking to me on his cell phone and I could hear construction in the background.


Anyway, I keep contemplating the possibilities. But the fact that something is possible – viable – doesn’t mean it must be done. How important is it – to me? To the life I want to design?



I miss my donkey. I worry that no one is giving my horses carrots and sugar cubes in my absence and I mourn for all the blackberries that are drying up on vines because I am not home to gather the end of season leftovers. Between dance classes here, I pour over homework and read literary novels rather than contemplate choreography. But home, I can have all this and still write a book about dance. If I feel compelled to.


 


I got up yesterday and readied for my classes. I put on my funky black, nylon Capri pants and a black sports tank. Put on a sporty black sweatshirt and wore my tried and true black hoop earrings that I traditionally teach in. I laced up my state of the art Nike’s (the only pair of shoes I have that are not stained with red Georgia clay and horse dung) looked in the mirror and thought, I know you. You’re that dance teacher I used to be.


 


It was so familiar. Such a visual blast of comfortable identity. I just stared a few minutes, wondering why I don’t dress this way still – for blackberry picking or something. But I know why. This surface dressing is evidence of a different me- a me I’ve decided to put out to pasture – figuratively and literally. I get confused staring back at that old me. My identity crisis is hard enough without optical illusions muddying my clarity.


 


I will not talk about the feelings I’m experiencing when I watch my peers still meshed in the dance scene, unchanged, struggling, pushing forward as master dance teachers in a steadily changing field. The dance world ain’t what it used to be when we were students.


 


Thoughts cross my mind. Where are they going without me? Did I bail too early, leaving important things undone? Or am I just the first to turn a corner and venture into new horizons? Am I brave? Or tired? Or giving up? Or something else all together? Why am I changing while others I have worked with for years, people with equal talent, experience and passion, remain in the trenches? Are they happy? Am I?


 


I can relate to them, yet I can’t see life through their eyes. So, I won’t judge or evaluate or speculate or philosophize. But it does make me contemplate my inner changes. Embrace them. I am comfortable with the decisions I’ve made. I honestly believe there are big things I’m destined to do, and it involves closing one door so I can open another.  I met a teacher yesterday who is 87 and still teaching 12 hours a week in her dance school. She is fit. Happy. That could have been me. Odd, that it won’t be. I respect her, yet I am glad I won’t be her. Evolution suits me. But I don’t want to leave dance behind. I want to take it with me. I have to ask myself, How shall I do this?.


 


I’ve learned slow down and see the world through new eyes. Eyes that take in detail and find humor around every corner. Eyes that come from a place of self assurance and pride in my past – hope for my future. I notice things now because I have the time and the inclination to do so.


 


I like people again. I no longer feel like a duck in a shooting gallery with a thousand dance mothers waiting in line, pop guns in hand. I am never emotionally tired – physically tired on occasion, but that is usually evidence of a productive day – things accomplished. Sure beats feeling as if the world is stamping on your heart.


 


It is good to laugh. Good to sigh happily. Good to look into the eyes of someone you don’t know in a donut shop, smile – and mean it. It is good to live an authentic life – even if it is unfamiliar territory and you aren’t the most impressive person in the room. Most of all, it is good to have a donkey sweet enough to truly miss. And blackberries on your vines. And paint in your hair. And the ability to say I can do that, but I can do this too . . . and tomorrow, who knows. I will probably be able to do even more.

I am crowded inside, with all these Ginnys jostling for space. But they are in good company and everyone gets along well at the slumber party in my skin. In fact, all those Ginnys are having such a rousing good time that no one wants to be the first to go to sleep.

Back with my reading buddy again

   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

Saturday – Jailbreak day.

    


To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing,
to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough
for one man’s life.


–T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) American Poet


     Today is Saturday. Jailbreak day. Well, to be more precise – jail-break-your-heart day.


     I went to visit Kathy again, to see how her court trial went, or IF it went. I called for an appointment on Friday (I’m learning the in’s and out’s now) and just hearing that my reading student was still there, prepared me for disappointment. She didn’t get her appearance in court last Thursday. She’s hoping, praying, for next week.


   Kathy didn’t look good today. Thin. Sad. We talked for about a half an hour. I asked her to tell me why she was there. Just between us, I needed to know if she was arrested for using meth or selling it, because – well, it makes a difference regarding how I feel about this entire aspect of our acquaintance.


    Apparently, she was home alone using meth (first time in two years, according to her) and it just so happens her probation officer (from the one time she was caught before) did a spot check on her that day. The officer asked her if she was on something, and rather than lie, Kathy admitted she had fallen off the wagon that afternoon. Unlucky coincidence – unlucky choice of response. The woman had to arrest her. Rather than this confession resulting in a night in jail, which is what Kathy expected, she’s been confined ever since.


    I asked Kathy why she didn’t lie to the probation officer. Perhaps the officer, even if she had suspicions, might have let the transgression go. Kathy’s confession didn’t leave any alternative but to deal with the problem openly.
   Kathy shrugged and said, “I do drugs. I don’t lie.”


   Interesting. I related to that answer – and to her.  People are far from perfect, and I appreciate those that admit their failings. It means they are honest about their dishonesty. I think that’s how you know you can trust an untrustworthy person. Ha. That sounds illogical, but to me, there is logic in that twist. I mean, isn’t it easier to trust someone sitting in jail who admits they’ve made a mistake, then trust the fellow proclaiming his innocence despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary? Anyway, I respect the way Kathy takes responsibility for her situation.


     I asked a load of questions this time. I have an insatiable curiosity about things I don’t know, and my mind is working to wrap itself around her dilemma, trying to figure out how she can, should, and will, handle it. This entire scenario is teaching me to better understand her socio-economic group and the culture of the underprivileged, first hand. I’m piecing together how her being illiterate factors in. All this sounds as if I am insensitive and analytical, and to some degree, I guess I am. But my relationship with Kathy is about reading – it’s just not a more intimate, personally involved friendship to date. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to help her. Can’t explain it.


      She cried today as we talked about her son. He had a birthday this month and she was granted a visitation in the same room with him– she got to hold his hand. It meant so much to her.


     It’s her 40th birthday on Monday. What a way to spend it. But she says it’s better to spend your birthday in jail than dead, and considering the vile drug she’s been experimenting with, she feels blessed to be alive at all.


       She says she’s learned a great deal about the evils of meth these past weeks. I asked if someone, a drug counselor or other professional, had visited her to discuss it. She said, no – she’s learned about the perils of meth from the other women in jail. That’s about as reliable as learning sex education from the other nine year olds in third grade, as far as I’m concerned. She told me about an eighteen-year-old inside for the same thing, and how she looks as if she is rotting away. That scares her. (Here I am worried that my facials aren’t keeping wrinkles at bay, while Kathy is worrying about rotting from the inside out. This does put life in perspective a bit.) Kathy says another woman inside was sent to prison for doing meth, but a few months later they discovered she never had a court trial, had no paperwork, nothing. Oops. They sent her back and there she sits, awaiting some action. A pawn in a chess game played by overworked, disinterested players who assume druggies are better not seen and not heard.


   I listen, thinking the sensationalized TV movies about unorganized, backcountry legal systems and their failings don’t do justice to subject. Who’d imagine that.


    Kathy said a minister visits the jail every day for service. They have church everyday but Sunday (he is busy elsewhere that day, no doubt). She showed me a small, business-card sized “Happy Birthday” card that he gave her. It is the only card/gift she will be able to have for this prominent birthday and she considers it precious. (Man-o-man, do I wish I could bake her a cake. I’d keep the nail file out. Promise.) 


   Kathy says the services help her “see the light and understand her folly.” When she talks like this, I can’t help but grit my teeth. She told me she didn’t feel strongly about religion when we met. I guess, in order to get along, it’s required that those “inside” repent according to the acceptable standards of this Bible belt community. Why does this annoy me so? Whatever brings comfort should be good, right? But it’s not unlike how I feel about the United Christian Children’s fund. I contribute regularly and I think it’s a noble and wonderful organization, truly, but I hate that, in order to be saved from starvation, the people needing help must embrace Christian teachings.


    It’s like saying, “Embrace our God or starve.”


    How fair is that? What do you expect those needy people to say, other than, ” Umm… pass me a roll, Amen.”


    Not much of a choice, if you ask me. So the former  Muslims and Hindu’s in third world countries are suddenly Christians – Christians with a nice full stomach. Hey, that’s good, right? We are helping, true. But I think the best way to serve God is by helping without all the strings attached. Action in HIS name that leaves HIS name out of it, if you know what I mean.


    I am getting off track – forgive me. Hope I don’t trip as I step-down off this soapbox.


         


      Kathy doesn’t have any idea about her case, what will happen if she’s convicted, where she will go, how long she will be held in jail, when she will see a judge or any other significant details about her situation. The court appointed attorney only visited her once, refuses to talk to her husband or tell the family anything regarding what to expect. He was extremely rude when they called for information and they’re intimidated by him now, so they don’t even bother to try to find out anything about her case.


    Her husband brought her a bottle of medicine for her depression – something that was court appointed after seeing a therapist when caught the first time. She was given one pill, then mysteriously, the medicine was misplaced or lost and she was told not to ask about it anymore. She’s having some dark depression as result (Not like that is unexpected.) The husband doesn’t want to bring more, because the 108.00 it costs is hard to come by now that he is missing work – he has to stay home to take care of their son some days. And he doesn’t trust his wife will ever be given her medication in that place even if he struggles to be able to afford it.


    I listen, nodding supportively, getting more and more pissed, thinking,  where the hell is the woman’s medication then?


   The entire thing is hard for me to comprehend. Can you imagine being in jail and waiting helplessly to see what the winds of fate (and the jaded establishment) does to determine your future – not taking defensive action? Not me. People of my middleclass upbringing demand due process and have expectations regarding what kind of treatment and representation they deserve. We fight the system to assure our legal rights are upheld, even when we are guilty of a mistake. But then, people of my class understand the workings of our government, and if we don’t – we learn what we have to learn to function within the rules, doing what we must to protect our best interest.


    Mark and I talked about Kathy’s situation, and he brought up some good points about how we (all people) seem to be trained to operate in certain ways due to our upbringing and social expectations – class system mindsets. Kathy doesn’t feel empowered in any way, so she allows her fate to be entirely determined by people who think of her as another annoying social failure. She hasn’t much choice. Someone who can’t read a stop sign can’t exactly pick up a book or pamphlet to learn what her legal rights are. She’s got to rely on only what information she’s told – when and if someone chooses to share the correct information with her.


   It kills me. 


  Mark thinks it’s almost impossible to help someone who comes from her disadvantaged world, because they can’t realistically envision a different life and they aren’t armed with the same sense of entitlement as those from more priviledged upbringings. A few rare individuals have been known to “pull themselves up from their bootstraps”, but that’s usually a case of one remarkable spirit defying norms. In most cases, even the best intentions to make a difference fail.


     I think, this comment was a lead up to defusing my passion regarding saving the world, one illiterate person at a time. He doesn’t want me to be disappointed or feel I’m a failure if Kathy turns out to be “unsaveable”. Nor does he want me to invest too much time in a losing battle.


     I think he’s right about the perils of social mindset, but I can’t help but honestly believe that teaching someone to read will enhance their life, even if it doesn’t enhance their life circumstance.


     So, I’m going to call the attorney Monday and talk to him – see if I can wheedle some information out of him in the name of “literacy”. Since I am not a family member, or a friend, I can claim an unemotional (even if this is not entirely true) professional interest, so I might be able to gain insight into Kathy’s predicament.


   I might also accidentally on purpose mention that I am writing articles for the paper on literacy, and that Kathy is one case we are looking at….. ummm…… and see if that makes him answer a few questions without the rude attitude I’m told to expect. I will also talk to her probation officer. Then I’ll call the college and discuss her situation. And I’ll make provisions to begin our lessons again, even if they are in the clink.


    Once again, I left Kathy twenty dollars (a birthday present – at least she can buy a snack from the machine on Monday to celebrate) and I told her I would make arrangements for us to continue our lessons as soon as possible. I think this will keep her mind off of her serious problems, if nothing else. And we can focus on reading instead of all this other sad stuff for a while. 


 


    I believe, in life, we are all bumper cars. Sometimes we are aiming at others, hoping to make a dent in their façade. Meanwhile, others bang into us, catching us off guard. We try to dodge lots of bumps, drivers who are bumping with malicious intent rather than for fun. Sometimes, we try to outrun someone driving right towards us, this way, when they bump us, it isn’t so jarring because we are braced for it. Sometimes you barrel head on towards someone aiming right at you, and the force of the crash makes both of your heart’s leap.


    We just go on, bumping away, touching each other softly or with great impact, colliding over and over with all the people on the ride – crashing in unexplainable random order.     


     I’ve bumped into Kathy, and I don’t know why or what I will learn from it. But she smiled at me after we made contact, so now, I’ll be damn if I’m going to turn my steering wheel around and drive away to bump into other people. I plan to back up, gain speed, and bump her right back – hoping I can force her to move in another direction. Just to see if I can. Our first bump may have been random, but I recognize her face on this ride now, and as such, I can’t ignore her.


    


     One other thing I’ll mention in this blog (cause it is sort’ a the same subject). I got a call Friday from the Toccoa Technical college and the woman in charge of the Georgia Literacy Commission. She wants me to sit on a task force committee – a literacy board, I’m guessing. I will find out more about it Monday. Of course, I’ll participate.


 


     Interesting. Life is a snowball. Sometimes little flakes of passion melt – but sometimes they roll downhill gaining size and depth. Wonder where all this literacy action stuff is going? Perhaps it is all just life research for something else all together – something I will do later that is significant somehow to me or others. My snowballs, -writing, being a reading tutor and becoming an activist in literacy – might join together to make one funny little snowman project – something else all together (a book?) . . . Or maybe, all this is simply “busy work” sent from heaven to keep me out of trouble for a while – an evasive tactic to help me pull my attention away from dance – like pulling the bandaid off quickly for merci sake.


      I just have to go with the flow and wait and see – time will reveal what it’s all about.

Oh – and tonight I am going to the drive-in. All of life is not a project, ya know. Sometimes, I just have fun. Popcorn, a flick and fogged windows. Can’t wait.

A LITERACY LEAP OF FAITH

     Went to jail today. Didn’t rob a bank or evade taxes. Didn’t pass go or collect a hundred dollars. I went to pay a visit to my friend, Kathy. It was long overdue.


    I’ve thought about her often the past two months, wondering what happened regarding her recent legal problem. Perhaps she was home and had put aside her interest in learning to read. Then again, she may still be incarcerated, in which case the idea of learning to read may be low on her priority list, trailing behind other more imperative survival quests.


    I’m not one to drop a project I care about. I’m like a badger, when I take a bite of something that tastes “right”, no one can unclench my jaws. I only let loose when personal reasons make me chose to do so. But contrary to this, I haven’t pursued Kathy and our reading project because I’ve been distracted by my father-in-law’s cancer. Nevertheless, I haven’t forgotten her. The call from the Toccoa Technical College soliciting my help to write articles about their student’s success stories triggered some measure of guilt inside. I started thinking about how my particular student, Kathy, was not a “success story”, but one of the failures. And that just didn’t sit well with me at all.


   So, I called Kathy’s husband to find out how she was doing. At first, he was evasive. He asked who I was and why I wanted to know about his wife. I re-introduced myself as her reading teacher and told him I’d been wondering about how things were going for her. Last time we talked, he told me she’d been arrested and she would call when she was released. Since I haven’t heard from her since, I wanted to check in. 


    I guess a reading teacher isn’t much of a threat because he softened immediately. He told me she was still in jail and they didn’t know how much longer she would be there. “Thursday, she might have a court date determining her fate”, he said, “We don’t know for sure. It’s a day by day thing.”


     I told him I’d been thinking about Kathy and wondered if she was still interested in learning to read. I was willing to help still, in jail or out. I asked if I could see her. He explained that visitation is on Saturday and Sunday, but I’d have to call to set up an appointment in advance. It was already six on a Friday, but I called the correctional facility anyway. They told me to call back at 7am the next morning to make an appointment. So I got up early and called on Saturday. Then, I was told I could only make appointments on Fridays. I would have to wait a week.


   I’m not exactly a patient person. I didn’t want to wait. So, I pleaded my case, explaining that I was Kathy’s reading tutor assigned by the Georgia Literacy Commission (sounded official) and that the college suggested I make arrangements to visit with her to determine whether or not we should continue the program. This is not exactly true, but it was close enough that I could talk about the importance of the meeting with enough conviction to sound believable. The officer on the phone suggested I come at 9:30. Kathy was scheduled to see her husband and son at that time and I could “share” their time.


     I certainly wouldn’t presume to take any of the precious time allotted the family for myself, but I did decide to go at 9:30, just to evaluate the situation and see if I could figure out what was going on.  


    
    I have never had occasion to visit a jail before. I’ve never bailed out a friend who might have had one too many, causing them to dance naked in public, or baked a cake with a nail file in it for a bad boy I had a thing for. Convicts simply aren’t a part of my social circle, so to say I was out of my comfort zone is an understatement. I entered the lobby of the Blue Ridge correctional facility with feigned confidence, my steps forced forward to enter the cold, stark room with a single row of black leather chairs standing center for waiting guests. The atmosphere was harsh, the very aura of the space making me feel as if I was in trouble, like when a police officer is following your car. It doesn’t matter that his lights aren’t on or that you are going the speed limit. You still feel circumspect.


     No one was manning the reception window. I stood politely at the front desk for over ten minutes but didn’t see a soul.


    The visiting room was only a few feet away. Inside, I could see people talking on phones to orange jumpered inmates seated in small, square concrete booths behind a protective glass window. There were five stations. I figured Kathy must be in one of them. I looked for a nine-year-old boy, assuming her son would be present for visitation, but I couldn’t make out any youths. A small three year old was toddling around and I heard a woman urge her to say hello to her mother. It made me sad. A large, bold sign stated that only family members qualified as visitors. No others were allowed to speak to the inmates. This might deter another woman, but I didn’t budge. 


     No one was around to tell me about procedure or how to go about arranging a visit. There were no pamphlets or signs to explain the rules. I considered walking into the visitation area unannounced, just looking for Kathy and waving, but deemed it a mistake. No reason to do anything that might harm my chances of building a respectful report with the administration, considering I am not a family member and have no right to be here. So I stood around another five minutes feeling conspicuous.


     I was now getting annoyed. I figured the jail is manned by public servants whose salaries are paid for by my taxes. After years of supporting the system, today I wanted to cash in. I’m the public and I wanted to be served. Where was everyone?


    Finally, I decided to poke around to get help. I entered a small hallway with a sign that that said, “No entry”. I decided that if someone stopped me, I could play ignorant. (Well, I wouldn’t be playing) I found a man sitting in front of a slew of monitors, his feet propped up on the desk like the bored guards you see in every B movie that features a small town jail and it’s lazy sheriff. I asked him if anyone was expected at the front desk because I’d been waiting in the lobby for over fifteen minutes. The guard quickly straightened up and came out to help me.


    I explained who I was, turning on my authoritative air and acting as if my visit was condoned by the college, the literacy commission and God himself. He listened carefully to my diatribe about Kathy being illiterate and the importance of our work together. I explained that everyone involved (um. . .that would be me, but I didn’t point that out) was concerned about losing ground in the progress she’d made. I told him I could get permission to continue working with her in the facility, but I wanted to discuss it with her before making arrangements to determine whether or not she was still interested.


    He looked at me as if trying to figure me out, then said, “What is wrong with her that she can’t read?”


   “She just never learned.”


   “Didn’t she go to school?”


    “She went for nine years.”


     He shook his head. It was unclear to me whether this condemning gesture was for the school’s failure, Kathy’s, or for me, getting involved with something that he considered a lost cause. I just blinked at him innocently. Waiting.


     “I don’t suppose you can tell me what she did or how long she’ll be here?” I asked. “I’m not prying, but I don’t want to go to the trouble of arranging meetings here if she is going to be released soon. And if she’s likely to be sentenced for some kind of crime, it would help to know if she’ll be sent elsewhere, or will remain in this area so I can arrange on-going tutorial visits.”


     He told me to hold on, and went to look at her file. When he returned, he said, “You should count on her being here a long, long time.”


     Damn.


      I was disheartened and wondered if Kathy had any clue about the severity of her case. Then again, perhaps this man was cynical and thought the worst of people involved with drugs. Perhaps Kathy rotting in the community correctional facility was his idea of fair justice, but a judge with all the facts might be more lenient. Without knowing Kathy’s crime or history, I had no way of predicting her future.   


     “If you’re willing to wait fifteen minutes I’ll clear everyone out and you can have a few minutes alone with her,” he said, at least showing respect for my good intentions.


      I let him know I’d be deeply appreciative and sat down to wait. Fifteen minutes and he would bend the rules for me? I would have waited all day if necessary. 


      Right on cue, everyone filed out of the visitation room. Two men were in the crowd, one a clean cut, graying gentleman in a uniform holding the door for everyone else, and the other, your typical country renegade with unwashed hair hanging in unruly strands to his waist. This man had bad teeth, an untrimmed beard and wore a t-shirt with a rock band logo blazed across the chest.


     This is where it becomes obvious I’m guilty of a touch of prejudice towards those who skirt the law.  I turned to the long haired fellow and said, “You must be Mr. Smith, I’m Ginny. We talked on the phone.”


     “I’m not Smith,” the fellow said, looking me up and down with the kind of smile the wolf gives little red riding hood.


     “I’m Mr. Smith,” said the clean cut man in the uniform.     


      I was relieved. Surprised. Embarrassed. The logo on the pocket of his uniform was for a company that cleans septic tanks. Of course, this was Kathy’s husband. I then noticed a nine year old standing a few feet away, staring with shy curiosity.


     I introduced myself.


    “I told Kathy you called last night. She was tickled pink. I’ve been trying to keep her spirits up. This helps. Thanks for showing up,” he said.


      Over his shoulder, I could see Kathy’s beaming face behind the glare of the glass. She was motioning me into the visitor’s area. I entered tentatively, amazed that suddenly, I was afforded not only her audience, but privacy for our meeting.


     I slid into the plastic chair and picked up the phone. “Hi.”


     “Hi,” she said. She looked the same, silky hair pulled up in a neat ponytail, make-up carefully applied. She was right before me, but her voice sounded distant. I wondered how old the phones were. My cell phone gets better reception.


     “I’m sorry it took me so long to come see you. I thought you’d be home by now,” I said.


     “Me too.”


      “Do you want to tell me what happened?”


     “It’s a long story. I’ll tell you when I get out,” she said, waving her hand as if she was tired of recapping the details.      
      I didn’t think it appropriate to point out that my hearing the story might still be a long way off. But I could wait.


      “I’m guessing you just made a stupid mistake,” I said, wanting to assure her I was still a friend, and not here to pass judgment.


      She nodded. “One mistake in four years. Of course, I got caught. My luck.”


      “You know my opinion. It probably is lucky you got caught. Keeps you from sliding deeper into trouble.”


     She nodded, but didn’t look convinced.


    “How are things in there?”


    “Not bad. The food sucks. They have vending machines in here but I haven’t had any money . My husband is going to try to get me some today before he goes to work.”


    She did look thin. Pale.


    She went on to explain that the women inside are all nice. Her roommate has children too so, mostly, they talk about their families.


    Picking up this theme, I said, “I bet you miss your son.”


    Her eyes welled with tears, unable to control the knee jerk reaction to the question. Dabbing them with her sleeve, she rolled her eyes as if I must think her outburst silly. But all along, I’ve known Kathy is devoted to her son. He’s the reason she wants to change her life and learn to read. So, while it was sad to see her depressed, I was glad to see evidence of her guilt. I consider it the motivation she needs to stay on track.


     I asked her what she thought was going to happen now and she told me she would know more on Thursday. She’s hoping for a diminished sentence, probation with a curfew so she can go home and care for her family.  “I volunteered for rehabilitation,” she said. “It’s a year long program, which I think that would be good for me. At first, my parole officer thought it would be the best thing too, but it turns out I don’t qualify because I can’t read and write. I guess there’s some schoolwork involved. Obviously, I can’t do it.” She made a frustrated gesture, as if she was exhausted by the shadow of her problem tailing her relentlessly.


      “All the more reason we should continue teaching you to read, don’t you think?”


       She nodded solemnly. “I meant what I said before. I’m determined to do it this time and change my life. I thought after this you wouldn’t be around to help me, but here you are. It means a lot to me that you’re here. I’m thinking some of the girls inside could help me with the flash cards and stuff if we continue.”


       “Then that’s what we’ll do.”


        My mind raced over the new obstacles we’d face if we have to continuing our sessions in jail. My lofty ambitions to use recipes and cooking projects as lesson plans would have to give way to less creative methods. We’ll probably be limited to flashcards and pen and paper. For that matter, I don’t know if I’ll be allowed to leave Kathy study materials or books at all. My brother once had an acquaintance in jail and he said that if he wanted to send books, he had to order them through Amazon. Nothing deemed direct contact with others was allowed “inside”. Would they bend the rules in the interest of literacy? Should they?


     I told Kathy I’d wait until Thursday to find out what the future had in store for her, then I would make arrangements for us to start working together again.  I told her to keep her spirits up.


    “They have church services here and I’ve been going,” she said. “It helps.”


    “I thought you weren’t a church going gal,” I said, remembering our previous talk about religion.


    She leaned close to the glass, as if sharing a secret with me. “He lives here,” she said, holding her heart. “I’m not alone and he’s helping me with all this.”


      The fact that I was sitting in jail on a Saturday morning, forgoing my plans to join my family at a spring festival, was evidence enough for me to assume she might be correct. Who’s to say a higher order isn’t pulling the puppet strings that force me into action.         


     I left the visitation room and paused to talk to the guard again. I asked if I could leave Kathy money for the snack machines and he said, “Why?”


     “I want her to be comfortable,” I said.


    “There’s a procedure.”


    “Can you walk me through it, please,” I said. If I was going to start hanging around this dismal concrete hole, I wanted to learn how things worked. I filled out a form and left Kathy twenty-five dollars.


     As I escaped to the open space outdoors, I saw Kathy’s husband. He was waiting to speak to me. It was raining, so his son was in the car, but he stood leaning against the rail, shifting his weight from foot to foot uncomfortably. He thanked me for coming. I told him I had left her money, so he didn’t have to worry about that right away.


     “That was kind of you. I’ll get that back to you soon as I can.”


    “It’s a gift, don’t worry about it, ” I said. I was actually worried about my hair being ruined by the rain, and then, I felt shallow for thinking wet hair is a problem when others have real concerns to deal with. The mind is funny, how it rambles.  


    I told him I was going to wait until Thursday, and once we knew where she would be, we’d work together on her reading again. “I would appreciate a call if you hear any news. I hope things turn out well for your family,” I said.


    “I appreciate that,” he said. Then he sighed. “It’s all my fault.”


     My prejudice flared again. I wondered just what that statement implied. Did he introduce his wife to drugs? Support her problem? Is he as guilty as she (of whatever she has done), but somehow he avoided being caught?


    “I work too damn much,” he explained. “I work between 100 and 120 hours a week. I do it so she doesn’t have to work. But it means she is alone too much and I’m not around to watch out for her. She’s lonely. Sad. That’s how she got into trouble again. I’m sure of it.”


     My heart went out to him, because he’s probably right, at least partially. But who can fault a man who spends a hundred hours a week in septic tanks trying to do right by his family? Or pass judgment on a woman who drowns her depression in illegal substance when life seems a endless hill of obstacles she can’t climb because she can’t read the signs along the way? And whose fault is it that she can’t read, or that he must work so hard at menial jobs because of his own limited education? Society’s fault? There own? Certainly, it’s not mine.


     It has occurred to me that I might be volunteering my time to someone who may not necessarily deserve it. I’m a busy person and there are many causes I could apply my personal effort towards. In light of Kathy’s recent legal trouble and my failure to learn the facts of her incarceration, I can’t be sure Kathy is earnest or deserving of my attention. But I’m choosing to assume she is. It feels right when I look into her eyes, and my gut tells me I can make a difference here.  I guess this is what you would call a literacy leap of faith.


    My aspirations to teach Kathy to read may fail, but if so, it’s fair to assume lessons will be learned in the process.


     Reading lessons.


     For Kathy, this will mean reading at least a few words and sentences better. For me, it will be a matter of learning to read people better.


    Hopefully, in the end, this project will prove we both have the ability to read well.  


 

Kathy’s problem

I had to take a week off from working with Kathy because I was enrolled in a “Storytelling” class at the Campbell Folk Art School. (More about that later). I arrived on Monday for our lesson a bit early, because I wanted to make some new flash cards for her to take home. I planned to introduce new material, to make up for the lost week. But she didn’t show up at 11:00 as expected. 

I wasn’t too concerned. I thought, with a week off, she might be out of sync or have forgotten. Still, I didn’t want to leave the college without being absolutely sure she wasn’t going to come. So I called her house. 

Her husband answered the phone. I could barely understand him because his accent and diction was so bad, but I heard enough for him to tell me Kathy was not on her way. He was supposed to have called me, but he’d forgotten.

He explained.  Kathy is in jail.

He said she didn’t do anything wrong – yet she broke her probation. I didn’t ask for particulars (considering I couldn’t understand them even if he gave them to me.) I asked when she would be released. He said maybe next week. But then again, they might just keep her in there for five years!

I hung up. Then, I cried.

I was so upset. I know this has nothing to do with me, but Kathy has been honest with her “problem” and she seemed so determined to work on reading and to change her life. And I have been her cheerleader in this campaign. I took a week off, and she immediately slipped back into her bad habits. Worse yet, I had no idea what was happening. I wish I’d been there for her.

The directors of the literacy program just shrugged when I explained what was happening, and said, “This sort of thing happens with those sorts of people.” It didn’t phase them.

They asked me if I wanted a new student, someone without problems. I’m afraid I don’t believe anyone who can’t read a word can be considered “without problems. Besides which, that is like asking a child if they want a new puppy moments after their beloved dog has been squished under the wheel of a car. Ummm… NO! I want MY student. I want to help her. I want to change her life. I want to see her read – OUT from behind bars, preferably.

I don’t need a student who is “easy” to teach. I am not afraid of facing all the fallout that comes with illiteracy.  And not following through with a commitment doesn’t sit well with me. I told the women in the office that Kathy was upfront with me about her involvement with Meth, that she told me all about her probation, and that I didn’t care. I knew she was battling this ugly business from the start, and if anything, I admire her desire to read all the more knowing that her lifestyle (and wanting to change it) is one of the reasons she was willing to make the effort.

When they saw how bothered I was, and how badly I felt, they asked me if I wanted them to call the jail and make arrangements so I could visit and tutor her there.They have some pull, they explained.

Now, we are talking! I am going to wait a few days to see if this is a short term thing, and if she isn’t out by Monday, I’m going down there to talk to the sheriff (or whatever they call these country authorities).  I’ll drag my damn flashcards to the county jail if I have to to get the job done. Five years? Well, if that were to be the case, I’ll have her reading Faulkner before I’m done.  

In the meantime, I can’t stop thinking about Kathy, her ten year old son, and what it must be to live her life of disadvantage. All things considered, I’m not surprised she turns to drugs. Who’s to say what I would do, given such dismal opportunities from birth on.  

I guess something like this would put a lot of people off, but it gears me up. I would have made a great warrior, had I lived in a time where a real battle ensued. Now, if nothing else, I’d like to think I am a good friend. So, I’m gonna hang in there as long as I can, flashcards in the back pocket of my cheerleading suit .

Anyway, I’ll write more updates as they occur.