This I Believe

Barbara - Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Entered on September 6, 2007
Age Group: 65+
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This I Believe

I believe in reading books – fiction especially. As I was learning to read in first grade, I walked past the big stone library in my town. The children’s section was downstairs from the never-to-be-entered adult section. Imagine, I could go in, look at the shelved books, and take some home. Pretty shy, I read constantly and became part of so many worlds.

My father counted how many books I had taken out on my library card in the third grade. Essentially one a day for a year – he was so proud and so was I. Reading made me special.

The books I read told me about places and people I had never met but had to know.

I learned about someone else’s loneliness from the “poor little rich girl” who had a fancy doll with elaborate clothes in the doll’s own suitcase. The doll was her only friend.

I got a glimpse of poverty in The Five Little Peppers. The children and their widowed mother were so poor that tiny bits of thread had to be salvaged for the mother’s sewing.

Heidi, my first book without pictures, took me to the Alps and introduced me to the feelings of others – sadness (Clara’s wheelchair, Heidi’s misery away from the mountains) and harshness (the aunt’s disregard for Heidi’s feelings). When visiting Switzerland thirty years later, so many scenes from the book and the feelings they evoked were vivid, right there in front of me. I knew those mountains and those feelings from reading Heidi.

Around thirteen, I read incessantly about the Holocaust. My identity was firmly anchored in the heroism of those who died in the camps and those who survived. Being called a dirty Jew in fourth grade made the impact of what I read even more powerful and consolidated my Jewishness. My sense of social justice emerged from the horror and unfairness of what I was reading about.

Today, fifty years later, I am still excited when I open a book for the first time. At the library or bookstore, I look at the first paragraph. If I want to read more, I take it home. I believe just owning a book helps; reading it can help even more.

Hearing it on a CD just doesn’t do it. My contact with the paper itself, turning the pages, finally closing it late into the night, still hungry for more – the process is central to who I am and how I learn. The stories open worlds. I understood back at the library and now, that just because the story isn’t true doesn’t mean it’s not real.

I’m a life coach. What fascinate me in my work are my clients’ histories. Like those I read at the Franklin library, their narratives deepen my understanding of myself, of others and enhance my professional and interpersonal skills.

My reading has made me who I am, enriched my life beyond measure and taught me so much of what I know and can do. I believe in reading.