Learning to Read poem by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (Dec. 2010)

Susan's Thursday morning note December 2, 2010
Learning to Read poem by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (civil rights leader 1854)
Good morning!  With the stillness of this morning it’s easy to repress the memory of days of harsh winds this week.  The weeks of winter you’re glad you weren’t a settler…seems nothing is as soul-breaking as a freezing cold wind in the middle of Nebraska!  Then, right before the first mental crack turns into a break – something round with rays shows up and stillness is the only sound.  Reminds me of the word hope….”hope for things unseen”…the fact that hope won’t be a word needed when we enter heaven…for all will be complete.  Maybe the peace that comes with completeness of what we’ve hoped for will be similar to the sound of silence after wind.
This week I read a poem published in 1854 by a black civil rights leader named Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.   The poem has stayed in my mind – how much I take for granted with education.  How coveted just learning to read was not so long ago by so many slaves.  I never want to forget this basic privilege.  Ability to read.  And not only ability to read – the accessibility of so many books.  We cannot take what we have for granted.  I am reading a book on the women right now in Afghanistan – how so many (even in privileged families) are not given the basic skill of reading.  Dare we waste this gift by not devouring all the learning we can by those who have already been where we are going?  Learn from others instead of entering stages of our life blindly?  So basic.  We dare not forget this privilege.
Learning to Read by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper 1854 (61 year-old freed slave woman learning to read for the first time)
Very soon the Yankee teachers
Came down and set up school;
But, oh!  How the Rebs did hate it, –
It was agin’ their rule.
Our masters always tried to hide
Book learning from our eyes;
Knowledge didn’t agree with slavery –
‘Twould make us all too wise.
But some of us would try to steal
A little from the book,
And put the words together,
And learn by hook or crook.
I remember Uncle Caldwell,
Who took pot liquor fat
And greased the pages of his book,
And hid it in his hat.
And had his master ever seen
The leaves upon his head,
He’s had thought them greasy papers,
But nothing to be read.
And there was Mr. Turner’s Ben,
Who heard the children spell,
And picked the words right up by heart,
And learned to read ’em well.
Well, the Northern folks kept sending
The Yankee teachers down;
And they stood right up and helped us,
Though the Rebs did sneer and frown.
And I longed to read my Bible,
For precious words it said;
But when I begun to learn it,
Folks just shook their heads,
And said there is no use trying,
Oh! Chloe, you’re too late;
But as I was rising sixty,
I had no time to wait.
So I got a pair of glasses,
And straight to work I went,
And never stopped till I could read
The hymns and Testament
Then I got a little cabin
A place to call my own –
And I felt as independent
As the queen upon her throne.
Let’s look around our homes.  What are our children surrounded with?  If we live alone, what are we surrounded with?  Friends and teachers within bindings, or just lights on electronics?  One line that makes me cringe is when mothers say, “I don’t read – I don’t really like to read.”  Or, “I don’t have any time to read.”  What example are we?  Even if we are not mothers, what are we to ourselves?  Giving ourselves much to think about as we take on our mundane parts of our day, or wasting the time given to us today.  We have no idea what we will have next in our life…will we be prepared because we’ve found authors who have gone through various situations?  Or, will we immediately believe that our lot is the worst possible lot of life?  Will we be able to keep perspectives and show wisdom in our decisions if we have no examples?  We have tonight to write on our epitaph what we did with the hours that will die today.  We know today.  We know we have the hours in front of us.  What will we write tonight?  Something worthy of the gift of time?  Regardless of any bitterness or hurts or grief.  We have today.  Who can we help instead of concentrating on our own stories?  Who can we look at as we go by and show kindness with our look?  We are given today.  Will we care for ourselves?  For our own minds.  Our gift.  The ability to learn.  Will we show our Creator our thankfulness by learning?  By thinking?  By reading?  By praying?   By goal-setting?  By dreaming?  By continuing to try to do better than the day before?  What will we write tonight? 
Thank you for letting me come into your Thursday.  Thank you for coming into the store & sending your friends.  How much all of you matter in keeping us encouraged to continue the store.  To continue to find treasures that you can find when you walk in the door.   Let’s go take on our day.  Our gift.  What will we notice if we stop and look at God’s creation?  The brightness in a child’s eyes?  The beauty in the lines of the oldest friend we have?  The ridiculous poses of our sleeping animals?  Details.  They are what make everything else worthwhile.  Susan
Latin for this week:
Omni ope atque opera - Whatever it takes to get the job done.  With the greatest exertion.