This morning and part of the afternoon, Alyse and I volunteered at the National Braille Press, where we collated a book for their Children's Braille Book Club: Every month, they get a current children's book title from a print publisher. They remove the spine, interleave transparent pages of braille, containing both the book's text and descriptions of the illustrations, rebind it — producing a book that can be read together by both sighted and blind readers — and then sell for at most the cover price of the original print book.
(Let me just pause here to say what a fantastic idea this is. Not only for sighted parents of a blind child, but imagine: with this, a blind parent can read a picture book to his or her sighted child. Or a sighted and a blind child can sit together side-by-side and read the same book.)
It turns out that braille is difficult or impossible to machine-collate, because the machinery tends to crush the braille. Yes, the geek in my feels like this is a solvable problem, and the wheels are turning in my head even as I write this. But in the mean time, that's why Alyse and I and a dozen other volunteers spent about four hours collating today.
In the process, I discovered two absolutely delightful children's books: The one we were collating, Weslandia, a delightful fantasy about a nerdy kid who ends up creating an entire new world in his back yard. And another, which I found while browsing previous titles they'd done at lunch time, Is Your Mama a Llama?
"Is your mama a llama?" I asked my friend Dave.
"No she is not," is the anser Dave gave.
"She hangs by her fet and she lives in a cave.
I do not believe that's how llamas behave."
To top the day off, I just got off the phone with my sister, Marliene. Mars was a teenager when I was born — which means that when she was in school, no-one knew what learning disabilities were, and the smart, inventive young woman, with her imagination teeming with amazing stories — the big sister that I adored — was going off every morning to Hell in the form of high-school, to be mocked and made to feel stupid and to nearly fail to graduate. (Not that learning disabilities were her only problem Mars also has neurofibromatosis, which you may know as The Elephant-Man disease. As a small child, this produced a growth on her tongue, the removal of which left her with a life-long speech impediment. As a teenager, it produced a fist-sized growth on her shoulder. Yet she was then, and has been for my entire life, the warmest and most joyful person I have ever known.)
Fast-forward about thirty-five years, to the summer of 2004. Mars was working as a teaching assistant in a pre-school in the small Canadian town where she's now spent most of her life. Wishing she could do higher-level work; feeling well-qualified to do such work, but constrained by her lack of credentials. We're talking on the phone, and I tell her — honestly; because it's the truth — that she's the bravest person I've ever known. After explaining how my experience with cancer gave me a clearer understanging of what courage is (in a nutshell, that courage is not at all what most people — people who've never had to be brave — think it is: Rather, it is simply doing what you have to do, given the hand you've been dealt), I explained why she's the bravest person I know. And she accepted it.
Next thing I know, Marliene, who has avoided school like the plague for all those years and has barely ever in her life even touched a computer, has signed up for a certification program in early childhood development, which is administered remotely, and mostly via the Internet. She was terrified of failure. And she did it anyway.
She just called me to tell me she'd received her final grade in her final class — and it was an A+.
She has gotten all As or A-pluses in all of her classes. I could not be more proud.