Fair Competition

I wouldn’t believe this story if something similar hadn’t happened to me at about the same age:

A New York librarian was fired from her job after standing up for a child who liked to read. Lita Casey, who worked as an aide at the Hudson Falls Free Library for 28 years, said she was “stunned” after a library board member called her with the bad news on Monday night. . .

Casey spoke up on behalf of Tyler Weaver, a 9-year-old who has won the library’s summer reading contest for five straight years. He’s won a T-shirt, an atlas, a water bottle and several certificates of achievement. This year, he read 63 books in just six weeks. But library director Marie Gandron, wanted to change the rules to end the child’s winning streak. Gandron reportedly said the boy “hogs” the contest and should “step aside.”

Instead of making it a competition, the director shared plans to pull the winner out of a hat.

At my school, I was the star in all English classes for obvious reasons. I’d been speaking English my entire life and had learned to read and write in English before I did in Russian and Ukrainian. As a result, my English was better than that of all of the teachers combined and multiplied by one hundred eleven. We had regular English competitions, and I won all of them very easily.

One of the teachers decided that it was unfair that I should win every year. She convinced the other judges that other kids were getting discouraged from learning because they knew they couldn’t surpass me. I was awarded the third prize, and the first two prizes were given to two other students. Kids are not stupid, so the “winners” knew that theirs were pity prizes. They did not look in the least encouraged by this kind of win. All everybody felt was intense discomfort. This was the last English competition we had because nobody felt like organizing them or participating any longer.

Against Silence

Spanish-speaking people are better than anybody else at handling emotions. In terms of emotional IQ, Spanish speakers surpass people of my culture in the same degree as my intelligence surpasses that of a door-knob. This is probably the main reason why I became so attracted to the Hispanic culture.

This is what Spanish-speakers taught me about dealing with grief: when something damages you, it needs to be put into words and narrated as many times as possible. If you need to tell the story a hundred, a thousand, a million times to make it lose its poisonous power over you, then that’s what you should do.

The most devastating moment for me happened during the last ultrasound when the doctor turned to me and said, “I’m sorry.” This was the moment when I felt that my life was broken in two. Everything was great before that moment and everything became horrible after it.

At first, I couldn’t even think about this instance without wailing and screaming. I knew that if I didn’t do something about it, it would tear me to shreds from the inside. If you take a piece of broken glass with jagged edges and bury it in the sand at the edge of the sea, the waves will beat it and toss it around until the edges become smooth and lose the power to cut. The same thing happens with grief. If you describe the horrible experience many times, it doesn’t go away, but it becomes possible to carry it inside yourself without it demolishing you.

So I described the devastating moment to different people. And I wrote about it on the blog. And I wrote about it on paper. And then I talked  to more people. And wrote some more. And I’m writing about it now.

Of course, nothing will turn this experience into a good one. It will always be a devastating moment in my life. But it will be one that I processed and absorbed as part of my life journey. I don’t need to deny it, fear it, or pretend it didn’t happen. It happened to me and now I can live with it.