During the month of March, several seemingly unconnected events occurred: Stephen Hawking died, I read a book called Ghost Boy (the true story of Martin Pistorius who became a mute quadriplegic at age 12), I heard Michelle Obama speak, and I was offered a new job for next year as English Language Arts Consultant for grades 4-6.
Together, these events have me thinking. It’s interesting: each event on its own might not yield the same thoughts. But the simultaneity of these things have reminded me of the power and connectedness of language and hope.
During the last six years of my father’s life he was quadriplegic. Speaking was difficult: it took every ounce of his energy to get his words out. Sometimes we knew what he was saying and sometimes not. Physically, his body had failed him. Whenever I see footage of Stephen Hawking, and as I read Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius, I am reminded of my father: they shared similarities in their inabilities to walk, hold up their own heads or move their hands except in uncontrollable spasms. But, also like Stephen Hawking and Martin Pistorius, my father was completely lucid and aware.
Since regaining his voice through the use of a communication device, Martin Pistorius has said, “Not having a voice to say I’d had enough food or the bath water was too hot or to tell someone I loved them was the thing that made me feel most inhuman. Words and speech separate us from the animal kingdom, after all.”
These three men had physical bodies that failed them. And yet, they connected to the world and to other people through words, though perhaps in unconventional ways.
Now, how does Michelle Obama fit in? Well, one of the lines she spoke was this: “Life is a series of dips. Sometimes the dips last for years but there is always a crest.” Her words remind me of these three men: they survived the dips and found the crest. They surpassed the expectations of the doctors and those around them, and despite what they were facing, they all found hope and purpose in life.
And my new job? How does it connect to all of this? I see my role as Language Arts Consultant as one to empower and inspire teachers and students through language. Students need the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening to function in our world. Giving them these skills, though they may look or sound a little different for some, can assist them in realizing their dreams. Language is hope.
Still need convincing? Check out these short videos: words from Stephen Hawking & Anderson Cooper’s interview with Martin Pistorius.