WRITING AS AN ACT OF FAITH
After a marathon four-hour reading session recently, I finished Jan Karon’s latest book in the Father Tim/Mitford series, Somewhere Safe with Someone Good, and, as usual, was sad to say goodbye to Mitford, a quirky fictional town in North Carolina, as well as to all the interesting folks who live there.
In this heart-warming story featuring dozens of characters, we learn that Coot Hendrick has lost his 100-year-old mother and is struggling with his loneliness. In addition, his inability to read is hampering his life. So Father Tim arranges for him to have a reading tutor. One of the last pages of this book reflects on Coot’s journey with reading.
“Coot Hendrick was starting to read his Christmas book all over again. It was a book he literally could not put down.
‘Mama,” he said, “listen to this.”
“He knew his mama wadn’t over in th’ bed, not a’tall but he liked to think she was, for it helped to have somebody to read to.
“’ I . . . am . . . Sam.’”
“I am Sam!’”
“Sam . . . I . . . am . . . ‘”
“In this book he was getting’ to be Sam and see what somebody named Sam was up to. He’d been a crazy cat in a hat, and here lately he’d been ol’ Saint Nick, hisself, with all manner of people trailin’ after him and askin’ questions, and now, just as he was ready to be Coot again, they give him this book for a present an’ he was getting’ to be Sam. That was his favorite thing about books – they took you off to other people’s lives an’ places, but you could still set in your own chair by th’ oil heater, warm as a mouse in a churn.”
I spent 20+ years in the adult literacy field, teaching many “Coots” to improve their reading skills, and I’m not ashamed to say tears rolled down onto the pages when I read these paragraphs.
I have also written stories and books for the Coots of the world. I once received a “fan letter” laboriously printed by a new reader from a literacy center in Pennsylvania. She wrote, “How did you know about my world?”
It is a true delight for writers to know that our work and words can take people “off to other people’s lives and places” while they are still home, “warm as a mouse in a churn.” It is even more gratifying to know that despite our struggles to find the right words the hope in our hearts has reached the heart of someone who soaks it in and perhaps shares it with another along the way.
So to those of you who attempt to string words together into meaningful thoughts or captivating stories: when you sit down to write, think of old Coot sitting by his oil stove, taking off to visit the world you want to share with him – and take the leap of faith to inspire him with your story.