Being raised on a farm has a few duties that no one is eager to do. One of them is picking stone. In the spring, when the dirt is turned over before planting, it seems that the first thing that sprouts is a new crop of stones. You cleared the fields the year before, but each year they return.
It’s important to get them out of the way. Young sprouts aren’t strong enough to move the heavy stones. It stunts their growth and sometimes kills them. So you bend over time after time, each stone getting heavier as you calculate the tonnage you must be moving and grumble about it under your breath.
One of the things I do is teach basic internet skills to seniors. The courage, commitment and perseverance of this group never stops impressing me. In the face of trifocals, small print, arthritic hands and lack of computer experience, they come in week after week, sometimes repeating the four week class three or four times, gaining a little more each time and somehow being encouraged by these small steps in what proves to be a stony field for them.
Add more stones for not knowing how to type and never having touched a computer in your life. One older African American woman in my last class wanted to make sure she was in the right class when she saw that others had had mouse experience. “Yes, you are in the right place,” I assured her. “We are going to start from the very beginning, with how to place your hand on the mouse and how to move it, don’t worry.”
This particular class was very animated. They went through the mouse exercises with precise concentration, not asking for it, but as we came around to help them, staying with the exercises and pressing on. One by one, as they finally made cut and paste work, they would yell out loud, “I got it! It’s in there! It worked!” - this woman included.
As the weeks progressed, she needed a lot of help, but continued to ask for it, to try, to stay with the class and do the exercises. On the day we were doing web searching, she seemed a little more hesitant, however. We had done Switchboard.com the week before, and she wanted to try some more with it during free search time.
“I don’t know if it’s because I’m bipolar that I’m having such a hard time with this,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “I just can’t seem to remember all the steps.” I gave her a tissue. “No, it’s not,” I said to her. “Just think of all you are asking of yourself here. You are learning something new with your body by moving the mouse, something new with your eyes learning how to look at the screens, and you are asking your eyes and hands to work together in a new way, too. Plus all the new words you are learning that go with the internet and computers.” She smiled a little, and kept on.
I was sad for her. Being bipolar was just another stone for her sprouting skills to fight.
Near the end of class, I looked up to see Intelligent Librarian handing her more tissues. Others were beginning to leave, so I grabbed the box and went over. “We need some more suggestions here,” she said as the woman dabbed at her eyes. “She’s looking for her kids. We have the towns, but it’s been awhile since she’s heard from them and we’re not coming up with anything just yet.”
“Ok,” I said gently. “What’s up?”
“Well,” she said, “I haven’t heard from my kids in almost ten years,” she said. “I’m also schizophrenic, and I think they just got tired of me and my illness. My doctor is so proud of me. I’m in the day program at Psychiatric Center and most of us just sleep, but I’m getting out to come here. I just wanted to find my kids and let them know, but maybe they wouldn’t care.”
Her kids would be my age and a little younger by now. Marriages. Grandchildren.
“I’m proud of you, too,” I said. “You are doing such a good job with this class. You are working so hard, I’m sure they would want to know.” IntelliLib nodded her head. Of course all three of us were using tissues by this time, and that made us laugh. She left the room, encouraged to come back for the final week, to repeat the class, and keep trying.
It broke my heart. Of course IntelliLib had covered all the free net resources that are available, and this woman’s time and resources, as well as abilities, were limited. But her courage and desire were not. If I can clear a few stones for her, I am happy to bend over and get what I can out of her way. God knows it is a small enough thing to do in the face of all she is dealing with.
Finally, this spring, for the first time, I am privileged to pick stone.