For My Brother Ronnie



Laura Benson, ISS Director of Curriculum and Professional Development



Written on March 3, 2014

Forty years ago today, I was called. Forty years ago today, I learned that words can save your life. Forty years ago, I knew I had to help give children - all children everywhere - the light of literacy. To save their lives. To save the lives of those they would serve. You see, a French man gave me my path. My life’s mission.

Over a deer forest outside of Paris, my brother’s airplane broke open. 364 beloved souls - mamas and grandfathers, soccer pals and sisters, daughters and baby brothers - were violently tossed to the Earth. The right rear cargo door had not been latched properly by the French mechanic assigned to this task. He could not read the directions for closing the DC 10’s cargo door. And because of his reading void, I lost my best friend, my brother, and, for a while, my energy to live. Because this French man could not read, thousands of us became orphans, childless, widowers, or half selves.

I think of this French man now. I think of the guilt he has endured and hurdled over as he tries to go about the daily tasks of his life. The toxic swill of shame eating at his spirit every day. For forty years. All because the gift of reading was not given to him. All because the words were mysterious symbols rather than clarifying messages.

Taking this journey has not been easy. I share what I believe is part of the French man’s journey. Learning to read was elusive and hard and shaming for me. Whether it was because I was the very youngest kid in class, or because I moved over a dozen times, or because I struggled with undiagnosed learning difficulties, or all of these, reading felt like trying to hold my breath under water. The words were hard to hold on to and even harder to understand. Stringing together beads of words was a ssssllllllooooowwwww process.

I could see everyone in my class flying through books. I could see my classmates run through all the SRA kits. They got to the aqua, silver, and even the gold levels. I was stuck in the potty colors. Stuck in the mud of black ink on a page. Forever.

Luckily forever turned into Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and Charlotte’s Web. Eleanor Roosevelt and Helen Keller. If You Could See What I Hear. Words turned into joy and light and laughter, too.

The path took longer. I knew that. And now, as a literacy teacher, I can see the wisdom in giving me that long journey. Because I struggled, I can come to students with a knowing heart. I can share ideas with colleagues with compassion and hope. I can give my students my brother’s Tigger sense of humor. And I fuel every step with the French man’s legacy in my life.

For Ronnie, for the 17 souls of our school, the American School in London, for the 364 passengers and crew of that Turkish Airlines flight, for that French man, all of us who lead and guide and nurture the awakening of words in our students’ minds and spirits, thank you from a full and grateful heart. You are saving lives. You carry my love and awe with you forever. You save lives with your teaching. Never forget that.


Published in ISS NewsLinks: Volume XXXII Number 3

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