Sometimes an unexpected moment grants us a fleeting glimpse of the future. It happened to me this morning. I will try to set the scene.
Picture a large gym at a local YMCA, long enough to contain a full-length basketball court yet bisected by a heavy canvas curtain, the bottom six feet of which is made of see-through nylon mesh, enabling those on each side to see and hear what’s happening on the other. On one side of the divider curtain, about a dozen senior adults were gathering for our twice-weekly exercise class, chatting quietly. On the other side, about 75 rambunctious children freely raced about, shrieking, laughing, tossing, catching, chasing, joyfully and noisily making the most of their school holiday on election day.
All except one. Seated against a wall, perched on a basketball, a lone boy sat, absorbed in the book he was reading. He appeared unaffected by the ricochet of an occasional ball or a young body tumbling into his private space. Joyful, noisy chaos all around. As I watched, fascinated, he turned a page and calmly continued reading.
It is important to note that what he held in his lap was not an electronic device but a book, with pages, and he was reading it. Clearly his preferred activity.
Twice, young adult counselors approached the child, bent down to speak briefly, then left. Each time he looked up politely, then returned to his reading. When eventually the group was herded out the door to an outdoor play area, he gathered himself and followed the others. We all know the value of physical exercise for the body. This particular morning, one child in this crowd chose to exercise his mind as well.
As the children filed out the door, we old folks watched and discussed the lone reader and celebrated his choice of activity, which gave us optimism for his future. We all agreed that his parents deserve much credit for planting that seed. Eudora Welty, one of my favorite writers, benefited from such an environment in her childhood. In her book One Writer’s Beginnings, she wrote: “I learned from the age of two or three that any room in our house, at any time of day, was there to read in, or to be read to. It had been startling and disappointing for me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass.”
Author Brynne Barnes nicely sums up the pure joy of reading for all of us: “It plumps up your thinker and fills up your heart. And where you end up is not where you start.”
Amen to that.