In my Honors Seminar, our theme is Magis and the Search for meaning. This week in class, a fellow student’s ‘This I Value’ statement, which she shared with the class, hit my heart especially hard both as a writer and as a girl who loves to read. Peyton Lunzer, a senior at Regis University, is an up-and-coming writer herself (which you can probably tell from the way this piece flows!) gave me permission to repost this piece here, to share with all of you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Teach a Girl to Read
I can honestly say I’ve only been proud once in my life, and it’s the time I took my eight-year-old neighbor to the movies. I’d been Chloe’s nanny for over five years. I’d started watching her after school and during the summer two months after I’d moved to her street. I was there her first day of kindergarten; I took her to the docks to learn to swim; and when she was four, I taught her to read.
I had learned to read when I was Chloe’s age. My own mother was a ferocious reader. One of my earliest memories must be Cathy Lunzer, curled in the forest green armchair in the den’s golden lamplight, with a book. It is in observation I learned the value of words.
In observation I learned, and in demonstration I taught Chloe. Chloe has eyes browner than mine and curly, dirty blond hair with ringlets to put Goldilocks to shame. She loves her younger brother Luke like I love my own: passionately, and with compassion, sometimes violent, sometimes soft. But her most endearing quality, at least in my opinion, is her insatiable curiosity. There is no rabbit hole too small to escape Chloe’s notice, nor any scary enough or simple enough to frighten her away. It shouldn’t have been surprising, then, when I told her one day that I loved books, and she said Why? and I said You have to read them to find out, and she said Okay, and started to read.
Chloe fell in love with reading as I had fallen in love with her. She read everything I put in front of her and more: Isabel Allende, Nancy Drew, T.A. Barron, Lord of the Rings, and my childhood favorite, Harry Potter.
This is the day that made me proud: I took Chloe to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, in July 2011, two days after the movie’s release. I remember it was raining, which made her curly hair curlier so she looked even more like Hermione Granger, the bookish and brave heroine whom Chloe idolized and that rainy afternoon, copied in dress and manner and hair. Chloe had finished reading the series the third time just two days before, and was squirming and excited beyond words to see the final film installment of the series. We bought popcorn, found our seats, and started to watch.
It was near the end of the film. One of the central characters—mine and Chloe’s favorite, played by Alan Rickman—was dying. We knew it was coming. His film fate had been written in the pages of the book. But it was a touching scene nonetheless. He drew a rattled breath. Chloe’s hand grabbed mine, and I heard her whisper:
I looked over. Tears were streaming down her face. She squeezed my hand, harder, harder, and like she stared intently at the screen I could not take my eyes of her, off this girl who was crying for someone she’d read in a book once, off this girl I loved like my own who I’d taught to swim, taught to read, and I realized in that dark theater, taught to love. For if she felt empathy for a character on a screen, a character in a book, how could she not love people in real life?
In that moment, I realized: this is what we are about. Reading and crying in theaters and holding hands. Learning what to value, and what to believe. For twenty years I have poured my hours and days and nights into stories, into reading and writing, and after all this time and after so many stories and after one handhold with Chloe one rainy, summer day, I think I can say what it all means.
We have nothing to give one another but ourselves, our stories, and our lives. We must exist passionately, violently, softly, and love this way too. Because the greatest story we will ever encounter is our own, our own first days of school and swimming, our own tears and sorrows, our own moments of empathy, and pride, and love. These stories are what we’re made of – who we are – and what we must share.
This is how I believe we must live. Read a book. Take a friend to a movie. Hold a hand. Live and love and share with others, share tears and share values and spend days with people.
Decide what you value. Chase a good story. Embrace your own.
Teach a girl to read.