Friday, February 14, 2014
Grateful For the Interruption
Big Rule: Don't acknowledge me, mention the weather to me, bother me, interrupt, talk or breathe loudly when I'm reading.
This morning I was sitting in Mac's slathering down my breakfast, book-in-hand. A heavy, dense book about the emotional sense that Christianity purportedly makes. Head buried in my book, looking neither left nor right, hoping to avoid all other people. I'm sitting in my self-imposed isolation at a counter and an old man sits down two seats from me. A major violation of my space-boundaries which demand the length of a football field in any direction. I've noticed him there before. Always carries a beat-up briefcase that appears to contain all his earthly records. I keep reading and out of my peripheral vision I can tell he keeps glancing at me and then returns to his own business. I'm thinking, Oh crap; he's gonna say something. I bury my head deeper into my book. He leans toward me and says, "So. You think you can learn more from reading that book than you can talkin' to somebody?" Oh crap. Busted. I reply, sounding but not feeling congenial, "Oh, not all the time," and I put my book down. I notice he's perusing a mag of some sort and i ask him what he's reading. He tells me it's a book about how to read. He's 80 y.o. and three years ago he started learning to read. I repeat--he's 80 y.o. and three years ago he started learning to read. He was born on a plantation in Mississippi and worked the fields, never going to school. He eventually moved to Peoria and became a very good boxer. And faked it all these years. In social settings he'd avoid the limelight, attempting to avoid any situation that would call on him to have to read in any detail.
I asked him, "Until 3 years ago when you began this formal reading instruction, could you read ANYTHING?" "Oh, words like 'cat' and 'dog.'"
He's 80; how does that happen?
He showed me his reading lesson which consists of a couple brief paragraphs and then several questions to test comprehension. He proudly showed me last week's lesson for which he received an A+. I asked him if he would read me a sample from that lesson. In a very broken cadence he read, " The. . . boy. . . was . . . very. . . hurt. . . when. . . his. . . .father. . . departed. . . " Reading another sentence he stumbled on the word "clever," and had to sound it out. But there was no shame; all I saw was a pride and a growing self-confidence that were surely nonexistent three years ago.
He has come further than I will ever have to. From being a son of a slave he has struggled, agonized, labored and literally fought his way to become a man of dignity and self-respect.
"So. You think you can learn more from reading that book than you can talkin' to somebody?"
No, sir. Not today, sir. Any time you want to talk I'll drop what I'm doing. You have much to teach me and I still have much to learn. Thank you, Bob.