I used my on-line dictionary to find the proper spelling for perseverance, to make the red underline go away on my computer. It’s another one of those words that’s not spelled the way I pronounce it. Fortunately, digital dictionaries have become more intuitive and can often follow my phonetic interpretation of troublesome words. I’m lucky to have this technology and it reminds me of how hard it use to be for me to piece words together without a computer’s help, spending hours flipping dictionary pages and never finding what I needed because my phonetic interpretations didn’t come close. Eventually I would give up trying to find the word I wanted and replace it with something I could spell, or at least look up easily. Sometimes not finding a word has its advantages, forcing me to choose unexpected words that surprise the reader, a fortuitous accident of my visual problems. However, sometimes the right word is the right word, but the search often became epic and occasionally ended in frustration. This is a common story for most LD people and it always raises a question for me: what’s the difference between those who choose to persevere and those who get squished by the weight of their problem?

My father was a demanding man of stern Swiss heritage. As a boy of ten my family and I watched a severe thunderstorm from our front porch as flooding rain and hail turned our corn crop into a pool of brown sludge with randomly scattered green flecks. With a rainbow still in the sky my father ordered me to put on rubber boots before loading hand-tools into the bed of the truck. We were going to fix the damage by hand, all 60 acres. I think my mother was there and maybe my brother, this part of the memory is dim, but what stays with me is something my father said. Dusk threatened our work while happy frogs sang in the wet alfalfa. Then the crickets clamored for nightfall as a new hatch of mosquitoes swarmed our sweaty necks. My father pointed to a clearing where we saw a line of headlights, cars coming into town on a distant highway.

“Look,” my father said, as he took a break from the row he was so diligently trying to upright, fighting against the gravity of muddy water. His face glowed orange with sweat illuminated by the last hints of sun.

“I bet those guys are going down to the Top Hat tavern to spend their insurance checks they think they’re gettin.”

As I slapped and marched in place to fend off bugs I felt envy toward the kids I imagined were sipping sodas and playing darts at the bar while their parents consoled each other about crop damage and violent storms. I could almost smell the bar food over a layer of freshly ionized air and musty soil.

My father abruptly grabbed the brim of his cap, slapping it violently about his shoulders and arms in a futile attempt to stay ahead of the bugs.

“Go grab some mosquito dope from the truck, we’re gonna be here awhile.”

We worked by the dimming lights of our old Ford pick-up, only to return early in the morning with sore muscles and new blisters, salvaging what we could before the afternoon’s heat desiccated the exposed roots of baby corn stalks. He would apply for insurance damage like the rest of the farmers, but he never gave up on his crop. Our yields that fall were lower but better than the farmers who merely plowed their fields under.

Some years later while working through a particularly difficult time in my doctoral program an advisor sent me a card in the mail with a strip of paper that had a quote on it:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan press on has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”—Calvin Coolidge.

What Coolidge called persistence I translated as perseverance: to press on in the face of adversity. That quote has followed me through all the transitions, all the moves. It’s now yellow and curled, with as much power as it had when I first read it.

I mention in Daveland that my parents were limited in the support they could give during my struggles in school. But I’ve come to realize that maybe the most important thing they gave me has nothing to do with their understanding of my LD. What they lacked in understanding they trumped by who they were. Who knows if I would have achieved more if I had had a private school with an LD program but I would’ve never survived without that word I can hardly spell.

So, do you have a perseverance story that you want to share?

As usual, I’m offering a free e-book version of Daveland to the first person who goes to my website and contacts me following this post.



About marty castleberg

I grew up on a farm along the banks of the Upper Mississippi River in Wisconsin. I overcame my school experience to earn a PhD in Organizational Learning at The Union Institute and University. I developed curriculum for adults and taught at a small liberal arts college. Consulting and research in organizational learning with a group that started at MIT segued into ten years of field research at Harley-Davidson, where I was their Learning Historian/Reflective Analyst. I left consulting to learn the craft of writing that went beyond academic studies, organizational narratives, and the occasional essay. I thought the result would be humorous travelogues and essays, but what eventually emerged was much different. With all the theoretical understanding that I amassed about living with LD, I still didn’t understand; that’s why Dave showed up. If you don’t count my eight guitars and four bikes, I live a very simple life in San Francisco.
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