Friday, May 7, 2010

I am a Reader, I am Strong

One of the earliest concrete memories I have of reading came from my first year in elementary school. I was excited and anxious to be there. My older sister had already been going there for two years which seemed entirely unfair to me since I considered us to be the same age. But I was finally there and could finally participate in the Peaks Reader reading program and secure my very own, hard earned Seven Peaks Water Park pass. Although the bar to qualify a kindergartner for a pass was rather low, I made a personal goal to out read my entire class and my older sister.

As soon as I got home with my bright orange paper with rows of lines for filling in the thousands of pages I was sure to read, I got to work on a large stack of Dr. Seuss books. Now, I very well knew that these were too easy for me, but that was the point! Within something like an hours time I ran outside to my mother to have her sign off on the 200 plus pages I had read. I can still see her face as she peered over the paper, her cheek smudged with dirt from digging about the hollyhocks, and told me she wouldn't sign it.

I was furious. Taking the time to dig up all the Dr. Seuss books and carefully write the names and page numbers on the impossibly small lines on my bright orange paper seemed like a feat in and of itself! I marched inside and decided that I would just have to start on the fattest book I could find. Which happened to be the Standard Works. I opened up the triple combination and started in Genesis. I read until dinner where I proudly announced to my sister that I was going to out read her by a thousand pages.

I'm not sure if I out read her at all, but I do know that I got my beloved Seven Peaks Pass, (though my sister still won't believe me when I boast of reading the Standard Works, cover to cover, at age 5. I've never claimed to have understood any of it...)

Reading was for me then, yet another means of competition with my sister, but a sincere love of words and literature stemmed from it. My childhood was filled with books that fueled my imagination and enabled me to create elaborate stories played out with the neighbor kids in the empty lots surrounding our houses. I have a strong belief that the foundation of imagination, laid out by reading, acted as a catalyst for my life-long love of painting. Reading served as a constant way to fill the note cards in my head so that the ideas for drawings and paintings never ran dry. There was always an idea to pull from, and there still is.

In grade school my father would read a chapter out of a book to my sister and I before bed. I remember reading "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and getting so caught up in what it all might look like that I would frequently interrupt the story with questions about whether my sister and dad thought the contraption they used was made of metal or wood, if it had large windows, if it could fold up, if the tunnel was glowing red . . . I caused my sister endless annoyance because all she cared about was if they WOULD EVER GET THERE with all my stupid questions standing in the way.

But as I grew, reading took on other functions in addition to visual pursuits. We read "The Scarlet Letter" in eleventh grade and I remember finding the questions it raised completely compelling. I wrote endlessly and though endlessly about it as the class conducted lively discussions about what a wretched person the heroin was.  I didn't think she was wretched. I found myself connecting in a deep way with her story and drawing parallels with her life and the circumstances in my own. The book became a spark for me in searching out how the atonement works. It strengthened my testimony of the power and forgiveness and the power of redemption. I leader to forgive and place faith in those close to me, both of which have been vital skills in navigating a life full of disappointment and failure.

Reading taught me this. It raised ideas and questions I had never considered and compelled me to find the answers. I owe much of my personal education to the words of enlightened men and women.

When I entered college I made a goal to go running every day. My roommate and I left one night under a clear sky and within minutes found ourselves soaked through and through. Our conversation that night revolved around the power of literature and why so man stories seem exaggerated and as a result, unrealistic. How were we--who considered our lives to be so normal and mundane--supposed to relate with these legendary protagonists? We concluded that literature provides us with a window into the strength of humanity. The stories are condensed versions of what we may go through. Seeing others overcome teaches us that we too could take on hard things.

As a new college student pounding the pavement despite the pounding rain, I felt the resounding truth that literature taught me: that I am strong.


Anonymous said...

your post reminded me of this


Anne said...

Your mom sounds mean. How did you ever survive her! Oh well...they say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. You go, sweetie.

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