I’ve got a story, too, and it’s much better than yours. There’s a girl who helps me here from time to time. She was ten when she first came. They didn’t let her stay in school because there was some rule about not repeating first grade more than three times. They agreed she was feebleminded and she ended up kicking around doing nothing for years. People ignored her. She was just a sweet girl with nothing to do. When she first came here I let her serve and I fed her and gave her some fresh clothes. She came back every day. I watched her work, saw how she put effort into getting the condiments lined up and cleaning the plastic tablecloths. And I got it into my head I could each her to read.
I’d never taught reading before, and she was painfully slow. She’d take a month to get to know a letter, then forget it. But we kept at it, no hurry; a letter and a letter and then another. We started sixteen years ago and last week she read her first book. It was a grade-two primer but it was a book with a cover and ten pages of text. She cried herself blurry eyed that night, couldn’t sleep, went through it ten more times. She finally read herself unconscious just as the sun was coming up.
Oh, it’s much more than nice, Siri. It didn’t change the world. It isn’t going to get her a job reading the news over the propaganda airwaves. She’ll still serve noodles and wipe tables. But she’s different inside now. She has a new love in her life, and I gave it to her. Me. I did it all by myself, and I’m every bit as proud of that as I am of anything I did during the resistance. All right, here comes the philosophy. You can leave if you like but I suggest you stick it out. You don’t measure your own success against the size or volume of the effect you’re having. You gauge it from the difference you make to the subject you’re working on. Is leading an army that wins a war really that much more satisfying than teaching a four-year-old to ride a bicycle? At our age, you go for the small things and you do them as well as you can.
- Colin Cotterill, Anarchy and Old Dogs