06/13/2012 09:25 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2012

Too Afraid to Ask

Most of us experience fear from time to time. Fear stops us from taking action, altering our course, maybe changing our lives, even if all signs suggest it would be a change for the better. I don't know where we learned to be afraid but different degrees of fear are present in each of us, slowing us down and sometimes stopping us in our tracks. While most of us grapple with fears of change, or fears we'll make a wrong move, can you imagine what it's like to be afraid to ask for something as simple as a book?

A very shy, 12-year-old girl named Rachel came into our
Pajama Program Reading Center with a group from a girls' home. We especially enjoy our tween and teen groups because their imaginations and dreams are so active. We're focusing on including more of these older children in our reading groups. When they are eager to read books they love we have such high hopes for our work with them and when we see those whose pain overshadows their joy, our compassion runs deep and we are motivated to help them find a few gratifying moments.

That afternoon Rachel read with her peers as usual, gathering up all her courage to read her paragraph aloud when her turn came. She was timid and very apprehensive from the first day we met her. A very thin girl just under 5 feet tall, she was hunched over and her frail frame looked like a hefty burden for her to carry. Her eyes were dark brown but the darkness wasn't about color. In her young life she had already absorbed deep sorrow and grief. I couldn't imagine what kind of sadness weighed so much. I soon found out that the number of times she had been let down by those she relied on was crushing. Often at the end of our tween and teen reading sessions we ask the children if there are any particular books they would like. Our computer is always ready and most of the children are thrilled to help us place our order. I don't have to tell you Rachel never asked for a book.

Week after week we always made a point of asking Rachel if she wanted a particular book, but the answer was always the same, a whispered, "No, thank you." I always thought she was too afraid to ask for some reason but I never coaxed her. Then one afternoon Rachel lingered around our bookshelves while the rest of the girls were outside waiting for their ride back to the home. I grew curious and watched Rachel anxiously search for something on the shelves. I wondered what it could be that had her so committed. As their bus pulled up to our door, she tentatively asked me in a hushed tone if we had a book on calligraphy because she wanted to learn. I was intrigued. We didn't have that type of book on hand and I told her I would try to get one for her as soon as possible. The moment I closed the door behind her I ordered one from Amazon. I was thrilled -- we had a a small victory.

The book came in two days later and that evening I went to Rachel's cottage personally to give it to her. She was speechless and she looked up at me, mystified. Her somber eyes spoke volumes. Rachel took a minute before she accepted the book from my outstretched hand. She broke the silence and murmured that she couldn't believe someone actually remembered something she asked for and bought it for her. She didn't ask for an extravagant gift. She asked for a book. It was $9.99 but her reaction was worth $1 million.