Sometimes a simple sentence can make you gulp back tears and realize how lucky you've been.
I received the following note from the Hamilton Literacy Council re the donation of sales revenue from the launch of The Artful Goddaughter mob caper:
"As I write this note to thank you...I am reminded of the dream of some of our clients that they will one day be able to write a note of their own."
The Hamilton Literacy Council is my charity of choice. I first came across them when I worked in health care at an urban hospital. We had an Out of the Cold program that treated homeless people with health problems, and provided people with blankets and extra clothing to keep them warm on the streets.
Warm on the streets…I should mention here that I live south of Toronto in Canada, where we have winter for four months of the year. Real winter. This year we have had 38 days in a row below freezing.
I won’t describe the health problems suffered by people who live day and night on the streets, under bridges, and in bus shelters. That is a topic for an even more serious post.
The person I am thinking of now is a woman I met during that time. She was middle-aged, which at the time I thought was forty-five. (My guideline has changed since then.) We gave her care, for which she was grateful. And for that care, we required her signature on a piece of paper, in order to please our sponsors.
She stalled. We pressed again, in plainer English, in case it was her second language. It wasn’t.
We were baffled. She looked away and then she told us. She couldn’t write her name.
It’s an odd thing. When I think of someone being illiterate, I think of them not being able to read books and newspapers. It wasn’t until this moment that it dawned on me that being illiterate also meant not being able to write.
At SleuthSayers, many of us make at least part of our income from writing fiction tales. We produce reams of manuscript pages, year after year. We may labour over the perfect sentence. We grumble when editors try to change our words. We joke (at least I do) about putting a mob hit on said editors, or at the very least, killing them off in our next book.
Writing is my therapy. Reading is my escape from the real world. I can’t imagine enduring the calamities of life without that escape. And I don’t live under bridges or in bus shelters.
Next year, I will have a book launch again, and I will donate the sales from that launch to the literacy council. It’s so little to do, when compared to those who actually volunteer as tutors. I will continue to write books that are easy to read, and hopefully, entertaining for those who are acquiring the skill of reading.
Learning to read as an adult takes concentration, determination, and immense courage. I think, perhaps, that no one understands the value of the written word more than those who have struggled to master it.
This is my salute to the men and women who dream of writing a note of their own.