Conclusion: A Reading Life

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the final installment of a three-part series, A Reading Life.

It’s a dangerous thing to put a book in someone’s hands who never read one. Especially when the book is The Book. Maybe it’s true, what the old nuns said about the Santa Biblia. 

I don’t know who invited Marta inside our doors, but I do remember seeing what appeared to be a slight, almost stunted woman waiting for beans and rice. She stood in the midst of a group of adolescents waiting to be served. The children came daily for a meal and activities in the afternoon. For some reason, I held back from stopping her from joining the teen class.

We had a policy, kids only. From experience, we had learned that adults and kids weren’t a good mix to be served together.  Maybe it was because she was so small and quiet, or because I suspected, wrongly, she had no clue that she was not 12 or 13 herself. She seemed harmless, and she was hungry.

She ate, but she devoured the lessons, too. We were studying stories of Jesus that month, and each child had a booklet with a story, puzzles, and sharing activities to complete with a partner or alone. I insisted that the teacher allow Marta to participate.

I don’t know when it began, but slowly, Marta grew from a child-like student to an adult volunteer. Marta cleaned with the same zeal as she ate and read lessons. In fact, we often had to tactfully suggest that further cleaning was not needed, as no one could see anything but gleaming white appliances in the kitchen. Maybe it might be time to go home instead?

To direct her energies away from scrubbing the enamel off the stove, I suggested that she help us with the youngest students rather than just cleaning or sitting with the teens. Would she like to assist with the little ones, the four and five year olds, and help them with their singing, playing and preschool learning?

A teacher was born. Marta guided those kids with pride. Each lesson was studied, applied, and reinforced. Her face shined with enthusiasm each day as she taught her young charges.

Marta’s fellow workers at our project never appreciated her or welcomed her with genuine friendship. When I was away, she was treated discourteously. They knew her as a marginalized woman who used to come only for handouts. They knew her shack was smaller than theirs. They knew she never went to school.

Marta gradually drifted away.  Marta took her talents and energy to the local Catholic school that allowed her children to attend on scholarship. Maybe the nuns didn’t appreciate her story about the Santa Biblia, but they welcomed her willing servant’s heart to clean and tend to the children.

Marta is a nobody to most people. Just a poor woman without an education. Yet,  the last shall be first, and the first, last. Letters and words came first, then understanding was born. And the Word became life.

A Reading Life, Pt. 2

Yesterday’s post hinted at the story below. I promised a story of waiting, reading and life.

This is Marta’s story. Marta* was born on a Honduran island in the Gulf of Fonseca to a family of fishermen. The family rarely had much to sell as the waters had given its best harvest to earlier generations.

There was no time for school. If you wanted to eat, you had to work. Marta liked to eat, so she worked. Marta grew up. She got married.

Her husband found work as a day laborer in the capital. Soon, Marta and her two children joined him in the city. When Ramoncito, the oldest boy, turned five, he went to school. He was quiet and studious.

The only problem was Ramoncito came home every day with indecipherable red marks in a notebook. Neither Marta nor little Ramon understood the red ink, so he drew doodles rather than the letters and words meant as his homework. What else could they do?

One day, Marta heard a knock on the door. Ramon’s teacher asked to come inside. The teacher insisted she would come every Tuesday and Thursday after school to help little Ramon catch up on his work.

Then, the teacher said something surprising.

“Just until you learn how to help him yourself,”

“Would it work?” Marta thought. Never had she imagined learning her letters in all of her twenty-five years.

Every day, she welcomed the teacher with a cafecito , and sometimes, a semita.  Quickly, Marta mastered the letters, then words, then all of Ramon’s little books. Ramon, too, began to read and write his lessons.

After six weeks, the teacher said, “You are an excellent student. You are ready to help your children. Can I give you a gift in exchange for the coffee and bread?”

Marta opened the package. It was the Santa Biblia. How could she read something like this? This was too complicated, and as she was told by the nuns on the island, bad things happened to ordinary people who tried to read the Bible.

She opened the book. En el principio creó Dios los cielos y la tierra/In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 

Nothing bad happened to her. She kept reading. She read about the flood, the tower, the Promised Land, the kings, the poems, and the laments. Then the good news, or we call them, the Gospels.

En el principio ya existía la Palabra; y aquel que es la Palabra estaba con Dios y era Dios./ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

If was if light hidden all of her life shined in her innermost being. The Word was living. It was for her. He was the Word. He was her Word.

She knew it along, but somehow now the knowing hidden in her soul had found words. The Word told her things, and she was daring enough to believe.

Everything after Marta’s discovery of  the first chapter of John is an afterthought, really. It’s just that it was after all these events had passed did I get the chance to meet this lady. And, I saw over the years that I knew her a transformation of a woman whom I thought to be slow-witted, and possibly homeless, into someone I scarcely recognized from the woman begging at my door that I met years ago.

I can’t finish this story today. I think the conclusion should wait for tomorrow.

*Marta is not her real name. The story is true, but some events have been changed per the request of the main character.