Tomorrow is my mom’s birthday, and that got me thinking about the best thing she ever gave me: words.
She taught me to read on those old fashioned McGuffey readers long before I hit kindergarten. The covers were just paper and soon frayed, and the books started out as a chore… What does Jill do? What did Jill say? I remember thinking, as a child, that Jill was very boring.
Then the words started taking on depth. Red meant the color, but it also meant anger, passion, love… the individual letters knit themselves into words that wove together to create a tapestry of life that was only limited to how fast my eyes and mind could absorb its nuance.
I decided I wanted to be a writer when I read about The Writer, a villain created in the mind of Grant Morrison. The Writer convinced me that words have power, and if I could learn to control them I could be a super hero or villain, depending on my mood.
During my entire childhood my mom surrounded me with books. Our basement was crammed with books on shelves my dad made, and no book was taboo. I got in trouble in third grade for reading a book in class that mentioned breasts, and from Mrs. Whitmore’s reaction I decided breasts must be a real problem. Later I realized that it was Mrs. Whitmore that had a problem, and words were amoral, neither good nor evil, and only took on the characteristics of the minds that wield them.
The ability to read and write has gotten me in and out of trouble, kept my family fed, guided me across the world, saved my life and found me love. My syntax can be lax and I don’t have the best grammar, spelling and vocabulary, but the sheer adoration of written language, be it caught in ink, blood or pixel, has been enough to carry me through.
The written word is silent, but kingdoms crumble, hearts break and chains are broken because of it. Words are keys to open doors, lifesavers that have kept me tethered through dark times and currency to be traded… and I may never have fallen in love with them were it not for my mom, years ago, forcing those McGuffey readers down my throat.
Mom: On this birthday of yours, I say thank you for the gift of literacy you gave me. Many of us are successfully birthed, but whether that life is a gift or a curse is often contested. Teaching me to read has been the difference between being alive, and living.