Someone asked me today if I knew what the letters F and J, and the number 5 have in common.
Automatically, I imagined where those letters fell on the keyboard. I could easily picture F and J. They were located where I’d put my index fingers on the keyboard to prepare to type or to rest.
The five would be approximately two rows above my left index finger, though it did not feel as familiar as F and J. I never felt as proficient with numbers. I can touch-type well enough, but numbers still make me want to look.
I didn’t come up with the answer, but I was on the right track. F, J and the number five, all have a little raised bump on the key. The little bumps anchor the home keys. Those are the keys along the center row that a typist uses to get his or her bearings.
Once you learn to type by touch, the home keys are centering. They tell you where you are. You can type in pitch blackness, as long as you know where the home keys are. But if you somehow got off base, your typing would look like some sort of code. It would be unintelligible.
The first typing class I ever took was the summer between junior high and high school. It was the first year I was allowed to stay home. My mom worked during the day, so every summer of my life up until that point I attended YMCA day camp. So this year marked a rite of passage.
But even though my mom had deemed that I was responsible enough to be home alone, she didn’t want me to hang around the house all summer. Hence summer school. I took two classes: marching band and typing.
Marching band was held at 7:30 in the morning. Typing directly afterward. I can still picture the room, with a green chalkboard, polished oak floors and those classroom windows that opened from a hinge along the bottom. The tall windows had to be opened with a long pole.
Being summer the windows were always open. It was still morning, so the sun filtered in through the trees outside with that soft light that holds the promise of the day. It was warm, by then, but not too hot, and I could hear cars pass by on the street outside.
The classroom was set up with rows of typewriters, all manual. I sat near the back of the room, half-way to the windows. The teacher’s typewriter stood on a stand at the front of the class, where she would demonstrate the rhythm of whatever we were practicing. How our typing should sound. Along with the sound, there was a way that typing should feel.
I tried hard at typing, even practicing at home. But I had trouble. My strokes were anything but rhythmic. My fingers never seemed to go where I wanted them to. I had trouble remembering where the keys were. I made a lot of mistakes.
One day, a film crew visited our class. I don’t remember what it was about, whether it was a news piece on summer school or a documentary. The crew walked up and down the rows, pausing at each student. I don’t know whether they were recording video or just sound. But I do remember how scared I felt when they stopped beside me.
I plodded along at first, my heart beating more loudly in my ears as the seconds ticked by. The crew didn’t seem to be moving along. I started to panic. I was aware of how unrhythmic my typing sounded. I kept hitting two keys at once, jamming up the keyboard. My face grew hot.
I couldn’t bear to look at the page. I was sure it was riddled with errors. My hands began to shake. I decided to fake it. I started typing quickly and rhythmically, hitting the letters in no particular sequence. It might not make any sense, but it sounded better. I could only hope that there was no video. Then the crew moved on to the next student and I practically melted in a puddle on the floor.
I took several more typing classes, but typing was always a challenge for me. Ironically, my first job out of high school was as a secretary.
I was hired as a favor to my mom. It was a done deal, only I performed so poorly on my typing test, that the human resources representative left the room to make a phone call—no doubt to my future employers to ask if they were serious. She returned a few minutes later and gave me another chance. Even then, I barely squeaked by at 40 words per minute, with three mistakes. Remedial by any professional standard.
But over the years, I have become more proficient. It’s easier on the computer. I still make mistakes, but they are correctly more easily, and without the impossible-to-disguise evidence of Liquid Paper, correct-o-type or eraser smudges.
But more than anything, I’ve truly become familiar with the keyboard. I place my fingers on the home keys as naturally as I take a breath. It’s been a matter of years of experience, doing the same things over and over. It’s become second nature.
I couldn’t help thinking about this during the discussion of the home keys, and how like recovery it is. It’s awkward at first. When I’m under pressure, I am tempted to go off in a flurry of activity that—while it might sound good to someone who doesn’t have video—makes absolutely no sense to anyone who has eyes.
But today when I get flustered, I can always stop and put my fingers back on the home keys. In recovery, for me, they are the fist three steps. To paraphrase: I am powerless; I can’t do it but my Higher Power can; I think I’ll let Him.
They have become my touchstones. These days, I can even find them in the dark.
Blessed Titus Brandsma – July 27
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