Monday, October 29, 2007


A letter was sent by a flattering stranger.
“Hello there, you hope chick,” the letter began.
Don’t tell me that labels are nothing significant.
Don’t say that name-calling has no effect.

Hope chick, I mused in a moment of wonder
Old bird is more like it for someone like me.
Hope chicks would be younger, and fresher, and softer.
And prettier and smarter and a lot more fun.

So I turned from the letter and went back to work.
But it’s hard to get serious when a hope chick is hatching
And growing, and flouncing, and claiming her rights.
Never under-estimate the power of name-calling!

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Other girls dream of candlelight, diamond rings and wine
Me? I dream of tech support coming on the line.
Offered with compassion, in a gentle calming tone
That promises to stay with me until the hurt is gone.

Other girls dream of the boy next door, or Grad Pitt on the big screen
Steamy nights in Paris, being treated like a queen.
I dream of Ryan in Vancouver, Andre in Montreal
Competent and waiting for my desperation call.

And what about the husband who has loved me all these years
Buying new computer parts and mopping up my tears?
When the viruses are feasting and the video stops streaming
It’s tech support instead of me that occupies his dreaming.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Kay Herth is one of my favourite hope scholars. Ever practical and kind, she writes with the wisdom of a scholar who has studied a topic from many angles over many years. So it is not surprising that in 2007, writing about hope-centred leadership she says, “Leadership from a hope paradigm involves three components: strengthening the hoping self, minimizing hope inhibitors, and creating a vision of hope in others. She is right, of course. Who could have said it better?
The tricky part is the first part, strengthening the hoping self. When that hoping self is feeling a little weak it’s an epic struggle to minimize hope inhibitors and show a vision of hope to others. Hoping selves are a bit of a curiosity. They are only partially governed by the reality of what is occurring around them. To this reality we add the viewing lens they use. Add to this mix the influence of the company they keep. Fold in the stories they hear themselves telling, stories that gather an aura of truth as they are told.
Like most recipes, this mixture presents us with quite a few avenues for strengthening our hoping selves. We can add a little of this, a dash of that. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find the wisdom to minimize a few hope inhibitors, or show a vision of hope to others.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Last Saturday, at the theatre, the curtain went up and the actors came out on stage. The play began. What a surprise to find that we can actually begin a public event without that annoying cell phone announcement. Not only that, but if any cell phones rang during the performance, I didn’t hear them. Just when you think things have changed permanently, somebody successfully takes you back to the good old days.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


And there stand the roses,
Firm on the bushes
Pink bush and yellow
Some fully open
Nested in promising buds.

Suspended in limbo
Of October coolness
Neither changing nor withering.
Simply waiting
To see what will happen next.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

stepping out when the sign says walk!!!

I am about to take on a cause. My goal is to get audible traffic signals installed in my city. This time, I hope to get them installed in the locations where I need them. It’s a big step for me. I really hate taking on causes. It takes up my time and clouds my joy with anger. It sucks up my hope, and that is not a good thing, because I need a lot of hope in order to do my work. This week alone in addition to my clients, I will be expected to be a hopeful inspiration to parents of severely disabled children, Alzheimer Disease family caregivers, agency staff of addictions service providers who are having their funds cut, and a whole auditorium full of health care staff fighting compassion fatigue. If you do much of this work, you guard your hope the way figure skaters guard their ankles.

The move for audible signals is a cause that has long been important to me, and is growing more so as I age. My vision has always been terrible, but the traffic is worse, the intersections are much more complicated, and my hearing, balance and courage are not what they used to be. Walk signals are there for a reason, because sighted people need to know when they are expected to walk. For blindpeople, the only option is to try to guess when the Walk signal comes on by listening to the traffic. But sometimes there is no traffic at the moment when the light changes, and sometimes it is too windy to hear the traffic, and sometimes the traffic is allowed to turn when the walkers are not allowed to go. And so it is definitely not reasonable to maintain that blind people don’t need to know when the Walk signal is shown to sighted people.

This time I intend to take on the cause and be hopeful at the same time. Taking on the cause won’t be too difficult. It’s the being hopeful that’s hard, given that there is some apathy to contend with, and a lot of excuse making about lack of funds. I am really not a fighter by nature. I would far rather laugh, or read a novel, or tend my flowers. I would be much happier if somebody else would take on the cause. I’ll need hope if anything is going to be changed. Here are some of my reasons for believing that I can be hopeful.

1. The City of Edmonton Advisory board on Services For Persons With Disabilities now mentions the promotion of audible signals on its website. This is a recent addition, brought about by one of its newer members.
2. Mayor Mandel held a special forum for disability issues during his campaign for re-election. He was receptive when I raised the issue. In fact, he has a track record of pursuing disability issues. Best of all, he got re-elected.
3. . I have made progress on this issue in the past. There was a time when the CNIB, publicly acclaimed experts on all things related to blindness, opposed audible traffic signals, saying that independent blind people could manage without them. The current president credits me with providing the rationale that officially changed this policy in the early 1990’s.
4. I did persuade the city to install signals I needed in the neighbourhood where I lived for 23 years. Those signals are helping blind people today. Unfortunately, it took many years for them to get to it, and I had already moved away when the signals were installed.
5. There are now enough audible signals around so that many people believe they are at all intersections. On three occasions in the past six months a helpful by-stander has offered me help, and then said that I probably didn’t need help because of the audible signals. All three occurrences happened at intersections where there is no audible signal, and the helpers were surprised to learn this.
6. My sister has moved to Edmonton, and she also wants an audible signal on the corner near her house. I sympathize with her. I waited at that corner for three turns of the light at 3:30 PM last Monday, because I couldn’t tell when it changed to Walk. There must be so many other blind people who want a signal. The problem is that I have no way of getting in touch with them, but I will keep working on it.
7. Though I really want a change of policy on installation of signals, my own personal position is favourable, since I live along a heavily populated route. . It takes only twenty minutes to walk from my house to downtown Edmonton, along busy roads, and there are five intersections without audible signals along this route.
8. Today’s Edmonton Journal has a wonderful article about prominent Alberta activist Martha Kostuch. It reminds me that not all advocates are angry and bitter. Kostuch says she is both a hugger and a tree hugger. She talks about her history of rallying both friends and enemies, her efforts to ensure that the fights remain about the issues, never becoming personal. What’s more, she gives notice to the world about her next cause. She’s dying of a nasty degenerative disease. She has no intention, she says, of dying the way the disease kills you—by strangulation or starvation. "I wasn't an environmental activist when I first came here," she says. But then she began to notice reproductive and immunological problems among cattle.
She traced them to emissions from the sour gas industry. Once you find the problems, you can't just leave them, she says.

This time, as I make yet another run at the cause of getting audible signals where I need them, I hope to learn from Martha’s example. Maybe the fight for a cause doesn’t sap so much of your hope if you are careful not to make it personal. I’m doing my research, getting the facts in order as I go. What’s more, I am stating my intentions early, right here on THE HOPE LADY Blog.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Bill the mailman nominated our yard to get an award for beauty.
Bill the mailman carries a bag of treats to give to Pirate.
Bill the mailman offers to put heavy Braille books in his truck.
“It’s easy for me to take them in my truck,” says Bill the mailman.

Bill the mailman took a holiday, well deserved indeed.
The Braille books lay untaken in the mailbox.
The dog license letter went back where it had come from.
“Dog in yard,” was scrawled upon the undelivered envelope.

When Bill returned he brought the dog license letter.
And he said to Pirate, “Oh, I really missed you!”
He got out the treats and took away the Braille books.

There’s a smile upon my face.
The world’s a better place
Because the human race is graced
With guys like Bill the mailman.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


You can use the Internet to look up information on just about anything. One of the things I recently looked up was the rules for a game my friends and I used to play at recess. It was a quiet sit-on-the-floor game that didn’t get me into any trouble. What’s more, I used to win it occasionally. The game was called Jacks.

Jacks are little pointy metal things that, according to the Internet, should not be left within reach of small children. The average six-year-old can hold ten jacks in one hand, ten jacks plus the small rubber ball that comes with the set of jacks. You throw the jacks on the floor. Then you bounce the ball. You allow the ball to bounce once and you scoop up the right number of jacks, then catch the ball before it bounces again. On the first try you have to scoop up one jack. It’s called Onesies. Then two jacks, all the way to ten. That’s called Tensies. Your reign of success ends when you fail to catch the ball, or when you fail to scoop up the right number of jacks. The winner is the person who gets closest to Tensies without getting it wrong.

I used to win at Jacks, not all the time, but often enough to keep me playing. Winning games of any kind is a real challenge for a blind child attending an elementary school for sighted children. So it’s not surprising the game of Jacks was one of my favourites. I don’t recall who taught me the rules. I just remember playing Jacks on the classroom floor with Lorna and Shirley and Loretta. I was still wearing glasses at the time, but there never was a pair of glasses that could make me see either the ball or the jacks. Since I needed to quickly be able to pick up both ball and jacks, certain adaptations had to be made. I always trailed my hand across the floor to find out where the jacks had placed themselves after I scattered them. That helped me be more efficient at picking up the right number of jacks when I bounced the ball. Then there was the problem of catching the ball. A ball doesn’t make any sound when it’s flying through the air. Somehow I figured out that I had a better chance of catching if I dropped the ball straight down and held my hand directly above it so that it would hit my hand after it bounced. This is what I remember about playing Jacks, the smell of chalk in the classroom where I sat on the floor with my friends, the finding and gathering of the jacks, the catching of the ball, the pleasure of winning.

When I search the Internet I find a set of rules for the game of Jacks. I only half expected to find it there. I wonder what sort of people look up the rules for these games on the Internet. In my day, children taught other children how to play jacks. I suppose a set of instructions might have been included with each set. I don’t recall ever playing with a new set, or being read a set of instructions. The older kids taught the younger kids. Somebody must have taught me, though I cannot remember exactly who it was.

My current theory is that I learned by observation, not being fully aware at the time that there is a difference between learning a game by hearing, and learning a game by seeing. I learned to play Jacks by hearing. I heard the ball bounce. I heard the jacks being collected. I heard the count, Onesies, Twosies, etc. And once I had observed the pattern, I played the game. I won some. I lost some. Eventually I got too old to play the game of Jacks.

It’s never too late to learn. You can keep on learning about a game long after you’ve stopped playing it. Not until my adult years, long after I had ceased to play, did I realize that there were two ways to play Jacks. There was the way played. You bounced the ball with your left hand. You scooped up the jacks with your right. As a kid I thought this was the only way. Only later did I begin to suspect that my friends were playing another way.

I suspect they were playing the way other people played, the way the Internet says to play. You bounce the ball and pick up the jacks with the same hand. That set of rules is more difficult than mine. Combine my general lack of coordination with the difficulty of blindness and I doubt that I would have won using this set of rules.

I owe a lot to the simple game of Jacks. It introduced me to the thrill of winning, a thrill I badly needed when I was a kid. When I was a kid there were parents who wouldn’t let me visit my friends because they said I would fall over things in their house. There were bullies who would wave a hand in front of my face and tell me to count their fingers. These things hurt me, but hurts don’t cut as deep into a kid who can win at Jacks.

Many years have passed since I last played, but the game of Jacks has continued to mean a lot to me as an adult. In a world where we pay a lot of attention to bullying, it delights me to tell true stories about children who show compassion, children with the grace to play a game by two different sets of rules, children who don’t mind letting somebody else win. Childhood compassion doesn’t get much attention. You think it is rarely found until you start looking for it. Once your senses are awakened you see it all the time. Older children help younger ones. Stronger children help weaker ones. They teach. They praise. They don’t get much credit and don’t expect any. They may not grow up to be wealthy. They may not be good at setting and achieving goals. But they will be the hope of a just society in the next generation.

I like to think that children are born with multiple tendencies, a tendency for compassion, a tendency for competition. Many of our systems, starting with our system of grading in schools, focus on the development of our competitive impulse. Natural competitor that I am, there’s nothing I like better than a contest I can win. But when I am walking down the street on a cold winter day, not quite knowing how to get around a huge snow bank, not quite knowing if I am on the right street to find the place I am headed for, freezing my fingers and needing assistance, I tend to become more interested in the cultivation of compassion. People will pass me by. If I wait long enough, somebody will stop to help. The competitors on their way to win a game will pass me by. The ones who won’t mind losing will stop to ask if I need them, knowing there is a chance that helping me will cause them to be late. Perhaps the differences among them were already apparent at the age of six, when they sat down on the classroom floor for a friendly game of Jacks.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Today is Donna James Day. Don’t feel badly that you didn’t know this in advance. I’ve just declared it now. Some say you can’t simply declare a day to be—well—a day of some note. They say somebody has to give permission for that. But I don’t know who gives permission, and I know they would give permission anyway. So I have declared it. And I wish you a happy Donna James Day.

Today is also municipal Election Day here in Edmonton. It happens every third year on the third Monday in October. The media has been pessimistically preparing us for some time, filling the airwaves and pages with the news that there is no serious contender to oppose the current mayor, and voter turnout, as a consequence is expected to be pitifully low. Meanwhile I hear citizens saying that they don’t even know who the candidates for City Council and school boards are, let alone what they stand for.

I have been sitting on the sidelines, howling long and loud at the media. Instead of whining about the lack of competition, I want them to feature the candidates so I will know what they stand for. Instead of predicting a low voter turnout, I want them to give me information so that I will feel compelled, fascinated by the possibility of voting. Instead of leading me to believe that I live in a city where nobody wants to vote, I want them to feature a voter who could set a good example for me, a passionate citizen in whose footsteps I might follow. And since Election Day has now come, and the media coverage is shifting to results only, I have decided to take matters into my own hands, and name the day in honour of Donna James.

Now Donna James is a citizen in the best possible way. She’s the kind of person who meets you at a party, hears that you work for the Hope Foundation, and says she wants to volunteer to help. You pinch yourself because you know she isn’t doing this out of boredom. Her current list of commitments is longer than your arm. Before you know it she’s bringing her friends out to help with your fund-raising events. She’s recruiting staff to fill your vacancies. She’s boosting the morale of your workers. She’s introducing you to media personalities. A few years later she’s chairing your board—which is what she was doing on the day of the last municipal election, October 18, 2004.

It was, you might say, a busy day for Donna. She went to work, then came to our board meeting at 4:00. The meeting ended at 7:00. Instead of rushing home, she stopped to encourage other members with a chat, offered me a ride home, and suggested we leave immediately so that she would make it to the poll before closing time at 8:00.

It was—or should have been—a reasonable plan. But Mother Nature had decided to test the commitment of civic-minded Edmontonians. She had provided a snow storm, dropping several inches of heavy wet snow, which turned slushy on the warm ground, then compacted itself into ice as the temperature dropped. Down in the bottom of the river valley Donna’s truck found itself with only two choices—back down the hills or go up sideways, never reaching the top. She tried the hill. She tried again. The clock was ticking.

Donna wanted to vote. She really wanted to vote. She knew who to vote for and it felt important to her. But now she faced a real dilemma. She also wanted to take me home.

“Drop me at the bus stop,” I said. She protested. People who don’t often take buses tend to have a difficult time with this. They don’t realize that taking a bus is a small thing for those of us who do it every day. She did not want to leave me at the bus stop. There were ‘shady-looking characters’ at the bus stop.

But she did drop me at the bus stop. She did it because she wanted to vote and we could be pretty certain that the poll wouldn’t re-open for her, no matter how valid or self-sacrificing her excuse for being late. Later I would hear her telling the story, trying, in the telling, to figure out how she could possibly have made the decision to leave me at the bus stop. It wasn’t in her nature to do a thing like that. It must have been because I insisted up on it, she would say.

Indeed I had insisted. It was, after all, the very stop where I would have waited had she not offered me the ride. The bus came and I was home in only a few minutes. She rushed in and cast a ballot just before 8:00.

All too often they go unheralded, but I can tell you without any doubt that our city has citizens who will stretch themselves to the limit just to cast a ballot. These are the newsworthy ones. These are the ones setting an example for us to follow. Our job is to follow them. Later we might ask the media to help us be responsible citizens rather than telling us we aren’t. Happy Donna James Day!!! Take time to celebrate. Do what Donna would do. Go to the polls and cast a ballot. The next opportunity to vote for the local politicians—the ones who have the greatest influence on our daily lives will come around on October 18, 2010.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Straggling sweetpeas hanging on
Red geraniums back in flower
Chrysanthemums in autumn colours
Even roses pink and yellow
Refugees from killer frosts.

Leaves are down and everyone’s out
Robins on the river bank
A city basks in Indian summer
Squirrels take stock for wintering over
On these sunny Sundays in October.

Friday, October 12, 2007


The most important things I need to know about my job I learned from the cabin crew. I learned them on early morning business flights and red-eye specials, when all I had to do was sit there with my seatbelt securely fastened, watching them prepare for and cope with unpredictable conditions, unexpected turbulence and circumstances beyond their control.
Who, after all, has more in common than stewardesses and hope specialists? We’re all out there to help others and we’re not always in control of the route or the destination. Though each of us learns the routine procedures and fancy flourishes in our training, what we need to know, must not forget, is that the things we do in the line of duty get much better results when we pay attention to the basics.
I learned that a friendly beginning sets the tone for the whole trip. A smile and a welcome means everything. There are people on board who would rather be elsewhere. . Circumstances forced them to be on your journey. You have the opportunity to be the cheerful and considerate character in the happy adventures they will talk about when they show the slides.
I learned that safety matters. The ones who feel safe embrace the journey. They make the connections and stay with you for the whole trip. They thank you for caring about them.
I learned that you can say the same thing over and over again but you don’t know if you communicated unless you check to see what they heard. There are times when the motor is louder than the public address system. There are times when people are too scared to listen for the details.
I learned that some people need more attention than others and that those people will get noisier as time passes if you try to quiet them by ignoring them.
I learned that people have more confidence in you if you make them laugh.
I learned that people feel a lot better if you are kind to them.
I learned that people on the journey count on you to keep your balance when the going gets rough. They want to hear you say that you know it’s rough and it won’t be rough forever. They want to hear you say you believe they will be all right. They are watching you to see how much hope you have.
Finally, I learned that if you are going to help others, and still be around to help them next week, even if it seems like you ought to help before doing anything else, even if you think you’ll be able to help yourself later, you must—absolutely must—pause before helping. You must put on your own mask first.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Shredded wheat and eggnog
Is a sweet surprising breakfast
For a girl who can’t read labels
From a fridge of milk and eggnog.

And she should start all over
With amore nutritious breakfast
And she would!

Except that shredded wheat and eggnog
Is tasting really good!!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Thirty-two gathered at Father’s house
For a meal that Mother would have prepared
Had she been there.

There were five under five
Seven over seventy.
There were six baby-boomers
Two teens and a dozen in the middle.

The dozen in the middle chased their kids, helped their parents and humoured Granddad.
Two of them were guests, anxious to please on their debut appearance.
Two of them were spouses, more experienced, fitting in.
And eight were later versions of the kids who used to frolic
Running, hiding with their cousins
Eating candy, putting plays on.

So because it was Thanksgiving,
But even if it hadn’t been
It was a time to celebrate
The miracle of a gathered family,
Ever growing, ever changing,
Past and future,
Experience and innovation,
City and Country
Ham and turkey.

Mom’s china and silver
With her everyday dishes.
Pumpkin pies from Safeway
Which would have shocked my Mother
But only for a moment,
And then she would have liked it.

Friday, October 05, 2007


The ground is clicking as I venture out in the crisp morning. Leaves are falling one at a time, tapping the earth, laying themselves atop the other leaves that fell yesterday. How many leaves fall in Edmonton on an average day in early October? There’s a question for you. There are places on the sidewalk where the leaves are ankle deep. I slow down in these spots, swish the leaves with my toes, step back and forward again for one more crunch.

Autumn and I have not always been such good friends. Sure, it is the time of my birthday, but the novelty of getting one year older wore off early, and you can have chocolate cake with thick fudgy icing any month. It’s just as good in June. I didn’t like September. I hated the way it brought a stop to the lazy days when anything was possible. I didn’t like the way routine started up, going to school, finding your classes, putting the kids in activities, the rejuvenation of committees after the summer’s rest. I went into fall pulling back, resisting, refusing to be wooed by flowery verses about crackling afternoons and geese in southward formation. Oh autumn and I tolerated each other. That is about all we did.

Autumn and I are better friends these days. Maybe it’s because my friends are retiring. Only a few years behind them, I can peer ahead to a time when my Septembers may be no busier than my Augusts. Will I long then for busy structured Septembers to get me going? Will I fondly recall the days when I would mention the word retirement and my colleagues would say, “Not yet, please.”

Septembers lead inevitably to Octobers. I have often resented them for that. But Octobers seem to be getting better too. Maybe it’s because I now live and work on old streets, streets laid out early in the twentieth century, streets where wide boulevards grow old shade trees with thousands, maybe millions, maybe billions of leaves. No need to book a day at the park for a crunchy walk. Just leave the house and go to work.

I am glad to be making peace with autumn. It comes, no matter how I feel, so I may as well welcome it. What’s another birthday anyway, but something to celebrate?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


A little bird flew into Miss Edey’s bedroom. Nobody else was there to see it, but that’s the story she told the children in her class one particularly trying morning when it seemed impossible for most of them to sit still, or pay attention, or keep their hands to themselves. That little bird, she said, woke her up by whispering into her ear that there soon was going to be a fire drill practice in her school and she had better warn the children about it. She would need to teach them that it would be a very loud bell, very loud and very scary. When they heard it, they would need to stand up very quietly and, without taking their coats, even if the day was cold, they would leave the room with their teachers. Out they would go, very quietly, in a nice straight line. When they were outside, teachers would check to make sure they had all got out safely. That’s what the little bird told Miss Edey.

The children had quite a few questions. Was it really a little bird, or had somebody else spoken to Miss Edey, possibly the principal or maybe the prime minister? Was she certain that the little bird said all this? In their experience birds didn’t seem to say things quite so clearly. And they kept on having questions, later in the week when they were doing arithmetic and writing in their journals.

I was there when the fire bell rang. We were sitting in a circle, reading poems together. One of the children leaned over to me and said, “Don’t worry Mrs. Edey. It’s only a fire drill practice. We are all going outside.”

The children got up very quietly. They didn’t take their coats. They didn’t push, or poke, or fight over who ought to go first. They just followed Miss Edey right out the door and answered in loud voices when their names were called.

Miss Edey thought it might be a miracle. It was particularly fun that her mother was there to witness it. I say it’s living proof that you should never under-estimate the power of a little bird.

Monday, October 01, 2007


It’s Read-In Week here in Edmonton. All sorts of citizens, famous and not-so-famous, are being invited to read in classrooms at Edmonton schools. My daughter is a teacher. “Will you come and read to my class?” she asks. She already knows the answer. Of course I will!

These days my attention is easily turned to thoughts about reading. We are nearing the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, and I am on a committee trying to figure out how to celebrate it. The now-famous inventor of our beloved reading system probably didn’t celebrate his own achievements very much. He was long dead before his ideas gained much support. He lived in a time when literacy and public education for all were ideas societies did not embrace with much enthusiasm. Nevertheless, he spent some time, proposed an idea, and opened up possibilities.

Now, sorting through my collection of Braille books for children, many of which also contain print and pictures, I wonder if there can be any greater privilege than the honour of reading to children. The only question as I prepare is, what shall I read? There was a time when the Braille books in my children’s collection held a prominent position on our shelves. But these days those treasured books are tucked away in Granny’s old wicker trunk. The air is slightly musty when I turn the ancient key to lift its lid, but the books are as fresh as ever. As I flip through them, searching for just the right book to take to Ruth’s class, the years fall away. I am back on the couch in our 67th Street living room with Ruth and her brothers crowding my sides and my lap. They want to see the pictures inserted among the print and Braille words. Their hair is fragrant from a bath. Their attention is absolute. If I should happen to say a wrong word, one of them will surely correct me. If I leave out a word, they will fill it in. The snuggling of their little bodies takes me back yet another generation, to the days of rocking chairs and afternoon snoozes when Dad, Mom, Granny and my sister Sandra used to read to me. Nobody in my family knew Braille, and I didn’t learn it until I was older, but I wanted to learn it so much. I wanted to read like they did.

I choose, for this morning with Ruth’s class, a book of old poems for children, and Judith Viorst’s wonderful story about Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Ruth’s class is a small class, a modern class, a class set aside for children who, in past generations, would have carried strapping scars on their hands and soon have given up the idea of getting an education. . Its youngest member has not yet turned six. Some of the children are in Grade Three. Each of them has a behaviour disorder preventing them from integrating easily with other children. Some live in comfortable homes, some in group homes, some in foster homes, some in houses unimaginable in their barrenness of spirit. Amid the confusion of their behaviours, it is still too soon to tell which of them have learning disabilities. On certain days, sitting still can be as hard for them as climbing Mount Everest.

Sitting still doesn’t usually seem quite so hard when people read to them. As I begin the story of Alexander, they quickly pick up the rhythm and wait for the parts of the story where they will be able to chime in with me when I say, “Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.“ They get into the words and they get into Alexander’s skin. Their sympathies are entirely with him. They know how it feels to get gum in your hair, to forget that you are not allowed to move the papers on a desk, to get in trouble for punching the person who made fun of you when the adults were out of the room. As we finish with Alexander, they are ready to take on the poems, guessing at the rhyming words when I remember to stop before the end of a line.

It would have been satisfying enough just to come in, read and leave, but I am not in a big hurry to get to work. I can spend half an hour doing something worth doing, so Ruth singles out one of the loneliest from her flock and sends him to my chair with a book about fire fighters. She tells him to read it to me while the others finish up some work at their desks. He is a good reader, and he is done in only a moment. Back he goes to his desk and returns with a heavy book from the library, a hundred-year history of policing in Edmonton. He tells me he got the book because he wants to be a policeman when he grows up. The book is filled with photographs. Finding his way around the inconvenience posed by my blindness, he shows me the pictures by reading the captions to me.

How can you measure the impact of a moment? How do you evaluate the outcome of the time you spend reading with children? Reading time is quality time. It is intimate. It is fun. This child currently lives in a group home. The staff are great. Still it must be lonely to live with people who come and go. Since we won’t be together for a long time, we will make this a good time. Together we polish his dream of being a police officer and bring it to life right here in this book.

Reading opens up so many worlds that would otherwise stay beyond our reach. It is a long time since I learned Braille, but I can still remember how passionate I was. I had dreams for how things would be. I saw it as my future freedom, my ticket for reading to myself instead of relying on others to read to me. Never one to accurately predict the future, I don’t recall imagining that so much joy in adult life would come while reading to others. Later I came to understand how reading serves a purpose that extends well beyond the bounds of simple pleasure and the provision of information. Being read to, reading to myself, reading to others, being read to again. Reading is the key to a privileged sequence in the unfolding of a full life, a benefit of being human.