Books have always been my escape… While mother battled her demons with noise and fury, I ran across the road to the silent coolness of the village church opposite, and read. It was a safe haven, as were the books.
It’s why this painting, in its reclaimed wooden, gothic arch frame is so precious to me… it IS me (although I’m blonde, not brunette). Lost in an Enid Blyton adventure, borrowed from the mobile library, I was in another world, where no one shouted, no one screamed or threw things.
Being a reader is who I am, all I remember being from a very early age, which is why losing the ability to read after the stroke was THE cruellest blow. I didn’t mind the paralysis on my right side (I’ve never much liked my body, anyway), but to NOT read?! Who was I, if I couldn’t read? I was a non-person. I certainly wasn’t ME!
So the long, hard hours looking at pages with these black squiggles, which I knew meant something – if only they’d stay static long enough for me to figure out what it was – gave me an insight into just how complicated reading actually is. These marks are words, we say. We show c a t, and say the word ‘cat’, and expect the non-reader to make the connection…
At least I knew it to be true – that these marks on a page mean something – after reading for over 40 years (the stroke hit when I was 43), but non-readers have to trust that you’re telling the truth… And once they accept that, they have to deciper these strange squiggles and marry the shape with the sound. Believe me, it’s enough to give serious brain-ache and lead to deep frustration when the connection isn’t obvious!
Even now, 11 years later, I have to practise – certainly if I’m reading aloud to a gathering – to give my brain time to see the mark on the page, to say it silently in my head, then to form the sound in my mouth, then say it out loud…
Indeed, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but we need nurture and care and patience – that is to say, love – to become all we can be.
May we always remember this!