Of course you can, but what if you couldn’t? What if you couldn’t read the labels at the grocery store? Or the forms at the doctor’s office? Or the street names on a map? Or the names on the ballot?
I think in this day and age and country, many of us take literacy for granted. But two books that I read recently truly brought the issue to light. THE RENT COLLECTOR by Camron Wright tells the story of a modern-day family that lives in a dump in Cambodia. Every day they collect recyclable materials and sell them in order to pay for their daily living needs: rice, vegetables, water and medicine for their ill infant son. Their life is a fragile one, living at the edge of poverty, starvation and failure. And can you believe there is even a dump landlord to whom they must pay a monthly rent for their humble shack? But when the main character, Sang Ly, accidentally discovers that the landlord can read, and begs her for tutoring, she is suddenly able to see the world with new eyes. And discover the landlord’s lifelong secrets.
I also read THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd. It begins when the main character, Sarah Grimke, is given her very own slave for her 11th birthday. In Charleston, in the early 1800s this was custom and although Sarah is reluctant to become a slave owner, at age 11, she just doesn’t really know how to react. Thus begins their complicated lifelong relationship. At sometimes it is as owner/slave at others it is as tentative friends and eventually, Sarah teaches Hetty to read. In this time period, teaching a slave to read was against the law and both of them pay steep fines, physically and mentally. Although both grow into strong-minded women, their relationship endures much tragedy and turmoil along the way. Sometimes it is hard to tell who is helping who more in this epic read.
Literacy as defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary as the ability to read and write. But we all know, it goes way beyond that.
Literacy is the ability to communicate, to learn, to empathize, to armchair travel and entertain. I am thankful this Thanksgiving for the ability to read, to write this blog and share books with you, and hopefully educate and entertain a bit.
There are many charities that support education and literacy and if you have a favorite, give them a shout out in the comments below. There are also many immigrants to this country challenged to learn English. Time, treasure and talents are the only things in this world we truly have to offer, so if you’re able, there are many schools and programs that would love your volunteer time.
Literacy is a gift and let’s share it with others. Happy Thanksgiving!