Specialist Armando De La Paz Jr.
From today's Los Angeles Times comes the unlikely story of an emotional connection between two book lovers who never met, one an 81-year-old retiree, the other a 21-year-old soldier who lost his life in Iraq:
Longshore learned of the Riverside soldier's death through a newspaper article.
"I never met him or had any contact with him, but the story moved me deeply," Longshore said recently. "I felt I knew him because I'm an avid reader and he too, such a young man, he was an avid reader. I felt like I'd found a kindred spirit."
The article, which ran in the Riverside Press-Enterprise, motivated Longshore to call Scott Godwin, one of De La Paz's teachers at Arlington High School. Longshore and Godwin spoke about Longshore's idea to honor the young man with a high school reading program founded in De La Paz's name.
Godwin said the idea would be a fitting tribute to De La Paz, who grew up in Riverside, because the two would visit after class to talk about literature.
"He'd come to me and say, 'I need something a bit more challenging,' " Godwin said. "So I'd give him serious books, deep books. And he would just eat these big books up."
De La Paz never failed to quickly read what Godwin threw his way: "The Color Purple," "Kaffir Boy," "Rain of Gold" and even a little Shakespeare.
" 'Bless Me, Ultima' was another he read in two days," Godwin said. "And he understood each book, he got them, very complex stories and heavy issues."
But in class, De La Paz was a student just like any other, keeping his interest in literature quiet.
"He never wanted to be the one answering all the questions, and he didn't talk about the other books in class," Godwin said. "I think he figured other kids didn't share that love."
The enthusiasm with which readers connect never ceases to surprise me even though I regularly see instances like this one and have experienced some wonderful ones of my own via the book blogging community. But think about this one for a minute and consider the odds against these two men, with only one thing in common, connecting in such a deep way that some good will come from the tragic death of one of the two. The power of books is amazing.