I wish I could tell you that everything is going to be alright. I can’t make any guarantees. There are none in this life. Increasingly, I find it easier to check out mentally than I do to try. It is a tactic that I picked up as a kid.
In reading groups, I would try to guess when the teacher would call on me so that I would be ready to read out loud the assigned portion. I never guessed right. Invariably she would switch up the order at the last minute and I would be caught by a new and challenging word, my world would collapse in on itself. I felt hot, as if the entire class was listening to me stumble through the unintelligible syllables. The fear of being found out that I couldn’t read as well as other children left me wanting to run away.
One particular day, upon receiving less than satisfactory grades, I made a decision that for me grades would not be a standard of success. Other kids would diligently do their homework, work hard to impress the teacher, but not me. I came to prefer the company of my own imagination in a world that I constructed. There I was always King, and no one threatened my throne. I was the hero of these stories, imitating what I watched on television, or read in the comics, or heard recounted by classmates who were taken to see the latest blockbuster at the movies. A colorful cape, a fedora and whip, a powerful ray gun, or a spaceship constructed from abandoned tires, became my fortress of solitude, and in that solitude, no one questioned my legitimacy.
This decision landed me in some special classes, and no one ever mistook me for being gifted or talented. Athletic skills alluded my grasp and I didn’t really learn to read until the sixth grade. Maybe I’ve always been just a bit slow? Maybe there were some learning disabilities that no one thought to test? But for whatever reason, I was able to float through most of my education without being detected or challenged. Just alone in my imagination. I preferred it this way. Religion became my identity, not education. After all, what need did a preacher have with a formal education? The Bible and the Holy Ghost were enough, so I thought, so I was told. Accolades were heaped upon me when I memorized the Bible, so who needed to memorize Algebraic orders of operations?
I learned to successfully navigate the two worlds I occupied, secular and sacred, and managed to mingle them when acceptable. I thrived when my imagination was engaged in writing or crafting stories with video and audio. I would arrive hours early to school to hide behind a microphone and primitive mixing board as I broadcast my morning show to local cable access channel subscribers. I loved imagining the audience as they listened intently to my every word. The monologue gave me comfort as it was one direction. My voice replayed in my ears. I marveled at its tone. This is what mattered to me. Not arbitrary measurements of academic success, this was the measure of my success -the sound of my own voice.
I remember one especially challenging assignment. I asked the teacher if I could go see the nurse because I wasn’t feeling well. At the nurse’s office, I told her “I feel dumb.” She laughed. I don’t recall if this was a moment of authenticity on my part, or If I was simply attempting to escape the demands of the assignment.
I’m facing some pretty big life challenges right now. I feel dumb. The answers I learned in religion are failing and secular wisdom is no better. Imagination is still a refuge, but I’m losing confidence in its ability to be a sanctuary.
Life may finally demonstrate that I’m a slow reader.
Note to self: Things may become more difficult soon.