It’s hard to imagine there are people in the U.S. who cannot read. Where would you be today if you hadn’t slipped into The Secret Garden, tagged along on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, jaunted Around the World in 80 Days, or made yourself at home in The Little House on the Prairie? The books I’ve read have spirited me away on incredible journeys, paths I would never have been able to tread had I not been able to read.
Enter Captain James Arruda Henry …
… a lifelong Connecticut lobsterman, Jim Henry’s formal education came to a halt when he was in third grade, almost a century ago. He was pulled from school to help his family earn a living and, as a result, never learned to read or write.
Some might argue that Jim forged a full life for himself without the light of literacy. He captained many a lobster boat, after all, and garnered the carpentry and plumbing skills needed to build his own home. He even helped found Connecticut’s annual Blessing of the Fleet ceremony and oversaw it for years. This fellow was functional, no doubt. Few people he knew realized his deficiency. But Jim was never wholly satisfied.
At age 91, Jim was inspired by the story of George Dawson, an African-American man who not only learned to read and write in his nineties, but also published a book when was 98 years old.
“He had the same problem I did. It was identical,” Jim told TheDay.com. “I figured if he could do it, I could do it. So I said, ‘I’ll try it.’”
Jim started at ground zero seven years ago, studying elementary school books and diligently practicing his handwriting. First, he mastered the alphabet, then his name, and eventually he sailed on to sentences. His granddaughter, who first introduced him to the story of George Dawson, gave him a copy of the MacMillan Children’s Dictionary and eventually helped him find a tutor. Fueling the fire, his grand-nephew told Jim he would no longer take phone calls from him. He wanted a letter instead. The support of family and friends kept Jim motivated, even after the death of his wife, when sorrow threatened to derail his dream.
Last year—you’re going to love this—Jim Henry published his own autobiography at age 98, just like his hero, George Dawson. In a Fisherman’s Language is a collection of personal stories, including several adventures from his seafaring days, that illustrates the power of passion and commitment.
“I feel so good about doing this. I don’t know what to do or what to say,” Jim said at a book signing. “I feel like I was just born.”
Captain James Henry is living proof: It is never too late to learn, to grow—to be born. How will you expand your horizons this year?