This I Believe

Jamie - Memphis, Tennessee
Entered on August 17, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: purpose
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This I believe: In life, there are no chance happenings. And, each meeting is a possible miracle. I know this because I have lived it.

A few years ago, I temporarily relocated to San Francisco so my son, Davis, could get intensive help learning to read. He was almost 10, in the third grade, and could not read more than a dozen or so two-letter words This makes school next to impossible.

One afternoon Davis and I were in the park. The afternoons were difficult for Davis because they were lonely. We were in a strange place, away from his school and friends, away from his dad and sisters, away from our routine. San Francisco was also a place that we, being Southern, could not be ourselves. In the South, you see, we speak to strangers. It’s a meeting of the eyes, a cursory smile and a “hey” or “hello” as you pass. I have learned over the years that Southern-ness does not cross cultural boundaries all that well. I have learned it makes people feel invaded if you speak to them. Davis was learning for the first time the ironic fact that sometimes if you are trying to be nice to people, they think you are being rude.

With Davis perched in a nearby tree watching the dogs and their owners play fetch, I sat on a bench with a coffee, and always, a book. I was glad to have urgent reading because it was unlikely that anyone would strike up a conversation with me. I was reading a steady diet of books about dyslexia. The book I was reading had the word DYSLEXIA in big, bold print across the cover.

I tried to become lost in learning about my son’s newly diagnosed reading disorder. I wanted to keep my mind from worrying — about my daughters back home; about the large amount of money we were spending, all on credit cards; about the energy it was going to take for Davis to endure this program that was so emotionally taxing; about Davis believing he was dumb because he couldn’t read; about the remaining three marriage counseling sessions that my husband would attend without me because I had rushed away to try to solve Davis’s critical problem. My resolve was to learn everything that I could to conquer dyslexia before it took us all under.

Why so many great researchers write books full of great information that is unintelligible because it is written for fellow academics is beyond me. Reading academic-speak becomes quickly pointless because you read and read and have no idea, or a fragile inkling at best, or what they are trying to tell you. I had been confused long enough when I looked up from my book to see an older woman dressed in a nice suit and stadium pumps with a stylish dog on a leash walking towards me. My gut told me that she was going to speak to me, but my head said no way, not in San Francisco. They don’t do that here. Yet, here she came. And, she did.

“Is that a good book,” she said.

I dreaded answering her because to be honest, I would have to tell her that it was a horrid book because if its high-faluting language. Surely such a negative response on my part would be a conversation ender, which would be terrible since she is the first person that has spoken to me in ten days. “It’s just okay,” I said. “It is kind of dry, but I am trying to learn from it anyway.”

“I don’t think that I have ever told anyone this,” she continued, “but I have that — dyslexia.”

“You did? You do?” I said. “Was it really hard for you to learn to read?”

“Reading has been the bane of existence,” she told me. “ I get by, but barely.”

We just looked at each other for a few seconds. It seemed like much longer. I was not sure what to say to her next. I searched my mind and emotions to relate what she was telling me to what I was experiencing with my son, whose bane of existence right now was also reading. “School must have been really hard for you,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, letting out a great weight through her breath. She seemed glad to finally tell someone, “It was a nightmare. Just awful.” She went on to explain the thoughts and behaviors that I was witnessing in my own child – forgetting her books so that she couldn’t read in class, being make fun of, called dumb, getting lost in her own world in her mind, trying to do anything and everything possible to just blend in and be forgotten by the teacher.

“How did you know you were dyslexic?” I asked her.

“That’s a curious thing,” she said. “I was twenty-eight and in college and one of my professors knew. I don’t know how, but he knew. Probably because he was, too.” She explained to me that what she wanted more than anything in life was to pick up a novel and read it for pure pleasure.

I told this stranger who had spoken to me first why we were in San Francisco, for my son to learn to read. We had been there a little over a week and had about 15 weeks to go. I described for her the exact location of the center he reported to every day and gave her details of their program. I told her that all of the instruction was one-on-one and that it was very taxing because you must be heavily engaged in tasks your brain just does not want to do. She told me that she knew exactly where that center was; it was two blocks from her house. With that said, the nicely dressed lady and her dog turned to go. She wished me well in my stay and luck in our pursuit. We didn’t exchange names. I did think how nice it would be to chat again another day in the park, but I never ran into her again.

Months after we had left San Francisco, I called the reading center to share Davis’s most recent report card. His counselor there also had information for me. “Funny you should call here today,” she said.

“Oh, yeah?” I said.

“Yes. I have just come from my final session with the woman that you meet in the park. She has completed 89 hours of training, and she is reading well.”

At first I struggled to make the connection, but then remembered the nicely dressed woman and her dog. Reading was the bane of her existence. I was delighted at her tremendous accomplishment. I asked the counselor her name and her address, and if she thought it would be okay if I mailed her a novel. She said that she thought it would be fine.

A few weeks later, I received this note from Judy Pryor, the lady in the park:

Dear Jamie,

Thank you for your lovely package. The chance meeting in the park indeed felt special to me. I was so grateful to find an avenue to get help for a problem that seemed hopeless. I learned a lot and want to make this knowledge go as far as I can take it.

It is truly wonderful that your son, Davis, found the tools to make his life as stress-free and full as possible. When you can read and comprehend, the world opens up for you. Reading is a huge gift.

Thanks again for helping me to make this experience possible for me. I hope we will always read with great pleasure.

Peace and joy,

Judy Pryor

I am as proud of this letter as I am of anything in my life. This is exactly how I believe life works. There are no chance happenings. And, each meeting is a possible miracle. Meeting Judy Pryor in the park was so usual and so chance yet so intentional and purposeful, for her and for me. I am filled with joy that the few minutes that we spent talking, being real with one another, sent her on a path that brought skill, happiness, and fulfillment into her life. That I was able to help someone makes me feel filled with purpose that is beyond my knowing.