Many years ago Dad had spent many months writing an account of his life, which he gave me to read when it was complete. It was a long, difficult read, not because it was boring or badly written, but because I’d had no idea of the nature of the difficulties he’d had growing up, and that he’d faced later in life. There were also the unmistakeable signs of the grace of God working in and guiding him in life, leading him to take decisions that would profoundly affect his future, and his family (Mom and me). Although I sometimes didn’t know how to respond to what he’d written, I’m very glad that I did take that closer look into my dad’s life and, in many ways, the origins of mine.
One of the things that I will never forget is his struggle with English.
Some of you reading this will know him as an English teacher with a deep love for literature and words, later to become one of the all India examiners for grading class 12 I.S.C. board exam papers in English. Well, the truth is that he didn’t know any English when he was young. He’d written about desperately wanting to learn English when he was a boy, and struggling terribly with the language. The desperation was enough to fuel him to start a lifelong journey to master the language that he ultimately fell in love with. I often tell my ESL students about him to encourage them in their journey of getting grips on this odd, globally dominating language.
Well, the untold story is about the legacy that struggle created for me, and the wonder of what I, and my daughter, have inherited. You see, I’ve no idea of what it is to struggle with English, to try and understand it, read it, write it or to speak it. It’s never been a struggle because Dad always spoke to me in English, and because I inherited his love for books, which has obviously passed on to my daughter Hannah, I’ve never struggled reading English, and because I love stories and enjoyed writing essays in school, I’ve never struggled writing it. Barring spelling (!), my daughter has little struggle with the language too. Today I teach English to others who are often desperate to learn it.
If my dad had not kept alive and pursued his desire for English, I would never have grown up in an environment in which English was the medium of communication, and neither would my daughter. His day of small beginnings was his first struggle with the language. None of us could have guessed the ramifications of that decision to pursue what was for him, a foreign language. I’m very, very grateful that he never gave up. Teaching ESL has given me a profound appreciation of the struggles that English learners face.
We all have multiple chances to make key choices that will change the history of our lives as well as the lives of others. Many months ago, the sight of our watchman’s wife lying with her tiny baby on the floor of the garage was so unbearable and inexplicable, that it got Lydia and me involved to find out what the matter was. That involvement, little did we know then, would lead to first, medical treatment of an obviously very sick woman, and then the discovery that both parents were HIV positive. Then followed the realization that our involvement had to be for the long haul. It was necessary to start walking with this family on their journey of pain, and we are praying, ultimately joy.
There is no question that God has saved our watchman’s wife’s life, has intervened to save the life of the child, when four others have died before this one, and intervened with great love and compassion in our watchman’s life. It was not a coincidence that we came to this building, and that we have friends as our neighbours, and other friends who are doctors and health workers who have been praying, guiding us with invaluable advice and insights, and sharing and making resources available. Slow change in this family’s life has started. History is being made for the little child who is almost certainly positive too (we are still awaiting test results to come from AIIMS). And whatever may befall, there is no regret that we engaged with the situations presented to us with the many limitations we have.
The day of small beginnings is never to be despised.