The Open Door: The Power of Reading

Cherese - Maryville, Tennessee
Entered on March 13, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
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I, a petite child with mousy brown curls and brown eyes, sat staring at the miniature easy-reader. My eyes glazed over as what I knew to be words were no more than dots and squiggles on a perfectly crisp page. My checks colored a deep rose as my mouth felt like a ball of cotton. I sat in the tiny seat in my elementary class. While I was not literally a prisoner, I was shackled by the chains of illiteracy which produced shame in me. Learning to reading, however, has opened the door for me freeing power and knowledge, which with time gives birth to wisdom. It awakened my ability to imagine and has enabled me to think critically, which eliminated taking everything in life at face value. Reading has improved my self-esteem and destroyed the barriers that separated me from the rest of the world. Reading essentially has added to my identity as a life learner, a writer, a future teacher, and a citizen. A sense of my own identity and an essential need to pass on the power of reading to others was given to me by my energetic first grade teacher and my mother, who cracked the door and turned on the lights.

It is safe to say that by the age of at least five or six, the average child can read; unfortunately, I could not. I can still remember staring at the sentence “the ball went down the street” hours after all the other children finished their proficiency exams. In early May, although to be honest I cannot recall the event, I enlightened my teacher, Mrs. Lloyd, that I couldn’t read a single word, let alone a whole sentence. In fact, I lip-synched my way through reading circle. Although my teacher had noticed, she called for a meeting with both of my parents at the end of the year. My parents drove up in our beat-up station wagon and sat in Mrs. Lloyd’s dusty office. Next, she proceeded to tell them of my reading plight. My parents and teacher mutually agreed that I should repeat the first grade. Of course, embarrassment and anger bubbled inside me. Everyone else could crack open classics like Where The Wild Things Are, Green Eggs and Ham, and all the Bernstein Bear books and read to their heart’s delight. I, on the other hand, had to sit in literacy’s back seat, praying for some sort of mentor or a least someone to teach me the alphabet.

Luckily, I was not alone. My mother, who had gone through a similar reading roller coaster, and an influential teacher, Mrs. Williams, pulled me aside and began teaching me to read. Mrs. Williams, a six-foot bombshell blond, seemed to always carry a smile. These literacy gurus both painstakingly drilled into my head the vowels and consonants. Finally with their help, full sentences became effortless to read. I no longer sat quietly in the back of the room riddled with shame. Instead, I awoke with a fervent passion for learning all around me. I finally possessed a freedom to see the world as I had never dreamed existed. I read books critically, perusing questions about the universe, mammals, reptiles, ancient civilizations, religion, and other philosophy that seemed to have a spell over me. In minutes, I could travel from Ancient Egypt to Feudal Japan without leaving the comfort of my living room. Because any idea could be translated in writing all over the world, I realized the socio-economic barriers were broken. Futhermore, thanks in part to the public library, one did not even have to be rich in order to pick up a book. Of course, I threw in Judy Blume’s stories like Are You there God? and Beverly Cleary books like Ramona. Later I progressed to psychology books on the positive perspective, pathology, and personality. I absorbed Jane Austen novels like Pride and Prejudice. Occasionally, I would be spellbound by an eerie, exotic Anne Rice tale series like the Vampire Lestat.

Reading expanded my creativity and love of creation; little phrases like Alfred Noyes line “The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas” captured my attention. These words caused an inescapable need to express my life in words as eloquent and beautiful as Noyes and other poets. Noyes describes the moon, as shedding on humanity a ghostly light, which remains veiled and untouchable. On the other hand, he describes the sea as a cloud which brings to my mind the reflection of the sky and sea in each other. Noyes’s poem shows the ongoing cycle of nature and life. This beautiful work influenced my award winning and published poems like “Why,” a poem about the changes in season with an underlying story of marital discord and “Lady Night,” a personification of the dark night sky as a woman, dream keeper, and giver. Literacy also gave birth to my unquenchable curiosity, which made me a well-informed debater and citizen. Reading presented a way to keep in touch with my feelings and has allowed my knowledge and life experience to combine into a youthful wisdom. It helped disperse my fears of failure and gave me the knowledge that I can overcome the twisted road that life throws one’s way. It helped influence my life passions: art, writing, and education. Every time I read on my favorite subjects, I think of those days sitting in the cubby hole, that small little desk with three walls that seemed like they stretched forever. I often wonder what it would be like to still stare at a newspaper or the back of a cereal box and see gibberish. Because of that frightening thought, I want to be a teacher to pass on the power of reading to the next generation, so every child can crack open Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat or Charles Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood or Sleeping Beauty.

Reading encompasses more than turning the glossy pages of the most intriguing children’s books. It breathes into each person a sense of the world, near and far. It has formed my identity as a life-long learner and skeptic. It creates world shakers and world shapers. It features creativity in its similes, metaphors, and personification, from Noyes’s words to my own often scribbled on napkins. For me, it is my identity as a poet and lover of learning. Reading will always be those quiet afternoon moments with the ones you admire and love, sitting in the corner turning pages of the best and brightest writers.