Lenora Jones* was in my Adult New Reader class. She knew her alphabet but couldn’t read.
She wasn’t forced to come to school. Her attendance was not tied to receiving a government check. No, Lenora wanted to come to school. She wanted to be able to read the letters from her son who was in prison, and she wanted to be able to write him back. She could always get a neighbor or a friend to help, but she wanted to do it herself. That was her goal.
I remember asking Lenora if her son knew she could not read, and she looked at me as if that was a ridiculous question. Of course, he knew. He had grown up reading for his mother. That was their way.
Lenora was not embarrassed that she could not read or that she had a child in prison, but she did carry great shame about her other son, her first born.
Lenora’s first son had died while they were living in New York away from family and friends. She didn’t have the money for a funeral or even to have him buried so she had to donate his body to science. As she told her story to the group, her pain was raw.
No one in the small group of non-readers said a word. For a mother to lose a son and not be able to give him a proper burial seemed more than any of us could bear. We took a break.
I was pregnant with my first child at the time. I remember putting my hands on my stomach. The world seemed too harsh.
For days, I tried to think of a way to ease Lenora’s pain. I tried to think of the right thing to say. Perhaps, by donating the body of her child, a medical student mastered a certain technique that saved lives. Maybe some good came from research conducted on her son. I could never come up with words that could be any salve to a pain so great. I never said a word about what she had shared. I don’t think any of us did.
Twenty-six years ago, I couldn’t think of an angle that made Lenora’s situation bearable, and maybe that is the lesson. Sometimes there is no bright side. Sometimes we just have to endure and move forward. That’s what Lenora did. I think that’s what we all have to do.
There was no going back for Lenora. She couldn’t fix what happened, but she was trying to make the most of her life. She came to school faithfully. Sometimes she would get a ride with a friend, but most days she walked.
She usually brought some little treat for her classmates and me. Sometimes it was a piece of candy or a bit of cake. Sometimes she would take seven pieces of candy from the secretary’s desk -- one for me and one for her and one for each of her fellow students. Lenora didn’t want to come in empty handed. She was doing her best. She was thinking of others.
I think about Lenora a lot. Socrates said “Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Her battle was a tough one, for sure.
Yes, everyone is dealing with something. Sometimes there’s no way to sugar coat it. What’s done is done.
I have a wise friend who reminds me on a regular basis that rear view mirrors are small, but windshields are large. We have to look back from time to time -- no getting around that. But, in driving and in life, it’s best to keep our eyes on the road. We need to watch where we’re going, not where we’ve been. That’s what Lenora Jones* did, and I respect her for it.
*Name changed for privacy.