I’m reblogging this post from Literacy & Hope, an organization I am so proud to support through my work with SheReads.org. I know that both the post and the founder, Alyse Urice, will inspire you this weekend and remind you of the true value of literacy – HOPE.
There is a marvelous online community of women–authors, bloggers, book group leaders–called She Reads. They have made it possible for our Homecoming Queens to have books this year. She Reads made it possible for these formerly homeless reading enthusiasts to each splurge 1/5 of a gift card at a local big box store. Remarkably enough they each bought the same indulgence for themselves–new undies and new books. Extra money was pitched in and they created a “goodie” basket that passes from woman to woman each month. It is stocked with bath and grooming items they consider luxuries. The generosity of the She Reads women is amazing and I am incredibly grateful to them. But, I do have one problem with the ladies of She Reads. I’m fairly certain they should change their name to She Reads And Then Her World is Opened Up, Her Mind Expands And Her Whole Life Changes For The Better. Okay, so it’s not catchy. And it probably wouldn’t fit very well on a size S/M tee shirt. Nonetheless, I will continue to champion my idea for a name change. Here’s why:
The last time I met with the HQs it was happy and amazing and interesting as always. The women have all promised to encourage one more women to join them this year and there was a new woman among us. She was a little awkward and mistrustful and I could see her waiting for “the catch” associated with this book group. The other group members smiled. They were just like her a little over a year ago. I listened as they answered questions and reassured her in more ways than I could that she was welcome and not judged.
About 20 minutes into the meeting a whirlwind popped through the door followed by her daughter. I had not seen this woman in more than a month and was agog (how often do you get to use that word?) at her transformation. This is a woman who had been on the run from abuse; a woman whose child clung to her everywhere she went and was devastated during the hours mom spent at work. I have frequently been of the opinion that she is a mom who makes sure her child eats and only has dinner herself if there are leftovers. The woman who glided through the door was visibly and audibly different. She gave me a strong squeeze and plopped down beside me laughing. I could see that she had put on 5-6 pounds, her skin glowed and her hair was shiny. She encouraged her little girl to go play with another child and to my surprise her daughter skipped off to play. For the next few minutes she told us about full-time work, a chance to become a manager, a regular customer at the restaurant who has offered her an opportunity to read and edit his writing. Me–me!–getting a chance to edit something! The other women asked questions and we finally settled in to discussing Orphan Train (because even though we read it two books ago they are still talking about it) and Susanna Kearsley’s new offering The Firebird. I will admit I don’t remember much of the specifics they shared. What held me in place, moved me, and sent chills skittering up my spine was the buoyancy of the conversation. Women who used to have no opinions were voicing them. Women who struggled to express themselves were discussing the stories in the books, contrasting and comparing them with their own lives. They talked about how this or that made them think about themselves differently. And the new incarnation of the woman sitting next to me still spoke with a Texas drawl but expressed herself with a developing, thoughtful new vocabulary.
As I walked out with my hostess, she nudged me with her elbow. You were pretty surprised by her weren’t you? I admitted I was amazed. To tell the truth, she’s been getting better and better since the day we all got our tiaras at the Queen of Your Own Life ceremony. It was like someone flipped on the switch labeled self-confidence. I thought about this group of determined women. She battles homelessness. She overcomes helplessness. She reads.
I am fortunate enough to chat online with authors frequently and sometimes feel like the torch bearer for Samuel Johnson’s philosophy that authors begin stories and readers finish them. I have escaped turmoil and hardship between the pages of novels. I have never been on a go-somewhere vacation but I have walked the Camino, time-traveled and spent nights in the palaces of places that my GPS will never find because they exist only between pages 23 and 243. I have seen a reflection of a better me mirrored in what a heroine accomplished between chapters 5 and 7.
When she reads, she sees other paths she did not know existed.
When she reads, she escapes, dreams, dares.
She reads and other realities become possibilities.
Joyce Meskis just wanted to open a book store. Denver’s Tattered Cover is 4 locations strong and Joyce has an embarrassing number of literary awards. Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, opened in an ugly part of town and transformed it. Owner Emoke B’Racz blames it all on what she reads: How my life has been brought to undiscovered lands and how much richer it gets–all from words printed on a page. How a book can have 560 pages but in only 3 pages change the reader’s life. Kathy Patrick dreamed up a book club for real women, The Pulpwood Queens and it is now more than 500 chapters strong. She reads, writes, and can transform your limp locks into a sleek new ‘do at Beauty and the Book. Some of the Homecoming Queens want to own businesses, one has taken the first steps to become an entrepreneur. Each of them have found something new to hang on to, to dream about or believe in somewhere between the Dedication and Acknowledgements.
I am willing to alter my original plan. Instead of She Reads And Then Her World is Opened Up, Her Mind Expands And Her Whole Life Changes For The Better what about this: She Reads And Is Transformed. It’s true. And it would fit on the tee shirt.