Sunday, February 15, 2015

All The Good Things

You might wonder why there is a picture of a soldier here. It's not just any soldier. It is Mark Eklund who the following story is about. After you read, I'll come back in:

ALL THE GOOD THINGS:
by Sister Helen P. Mrosla  
He was in the first third grade class I taught at Saint Mary's School in Morris, Minnesota. All 34 of my students were dear to me, but Mark Eklund was one in a million. [He was] very neat in appearance but had that happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischieviousness delightful.

Mark talked incessantly. I had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. What impressed me so much, though, was his sincere response every time I had to correct him for misbehaving: "Thank you for correcting me, Sister!" I didn't know what to make of it at first, but before long I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.

One morning my patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often, and then I made a novice teacher's mistake. I looked at him and said, "If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!"

It wasn't ten seconds later when Chuck blurted out, "Mark is talking again." I hadn't asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it.

I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. I walked to my desk, very deliberately opened my drawer and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark's desk, tore off two pieces of tape and made a big X with them over his mouth. I then returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark's desk, removed the tape and shrugged my shoulders. His first words were, "Thank you for correcting me, Sister."

At the end of the year I was asked to teach junior high math. The years flew by, and before I knew it Mark was in my classroom again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to my instructions in the "new math," he did not talk as much in ninth grade as he had in the third.

One Friday, things just didn't feel right. We had worked hard on a new concept all week, and I sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves — and edgy with one another. I had to stop this crankiness before it got out of hand. So I asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then I told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish the assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed me the papers. Charlie smiled. Mark said, "Thank you for teaching me, Sister. Have a good weekend."

That Saturday, I wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and I listed what everyone else had said about that individual. On Monday I gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. "Really?" I heard whispered. "I never knew that meant anything to anyone!" "I didn't know others liked me so much!" No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another again.

That group of students moved on. Several years later, after I returned from vacation, my parents met me at the airport. As we were driving home, Mother asked me the usual questions about the trip — the weather, my experiences in general. There was a light lull in the conversation. Mother gave Dad a sideways glance and simply said, "Dad?"

My father cleared his throat as he usually did before something important. "The Eklunds called last night," he began.

"Really?" I said. "I haven't heard from them in years. I wonder how Mark is."

Dad responded quietly. "Mark was killed in Vietnam," he said. "The funeral is tomorrow, and his parents would like it if you could attend." To this day I can still point to the exact spot on I-494 where Dad told me about Mark.

I had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. Mark looked so handsome, so mature. All I could think at that moment was, Mark, I would give all the masking tape in the world if only you would talk to me. The church was packed with Mark's friends. Chuck's sister sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Why did it have to rain on the day of the funeral? It was difficult enough at the graveside. The pastor said the usual prayers, and the bugler played taps. One by one those who loved Mark took a last walk by the coffin and sprinkled it with holy water.

I was the last one to bless the coffin. As I stood there, one of the soldiers who had acted as pallbearer came up to me. "Were you Mark's math teacher?" he asked. I nodded as I continued to stare at the coffin. "Mark talked about you a lot," he said.

After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates headed to Chuck's farmhouse for lunch. Mark's mother and father were there, obviously waiting for me. "We want to show you something," his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. "They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it."

Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. I knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which I had listed all the good things each of Mark's classmates had said about him.

"Thank you so much for doing that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured it."

Mark's classmates started to gather around us.

Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, "I still have my list. It's in the top drawer of my desk at home."

Chuck's wife said, "Chuck asked me to put this in our wedding album."

"I have mine too," Marilyn said. "It's in my diary."

Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. "I carry this with me at all times," Vicki said, without batting an eyelash. "I think we all saved our lists."

That's when I finally sat down and cried. I cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.


The story was written many years ago by Sister Mrosla for Protheus Magazine and gained fame when reprinted in Reader's Digest. Over the years, I have recreated it with my basketball teams, usually about twelve kids. Two weeks ago, I did it with my three Gospels classes, totaling more than seventy plus students. It's going to be a challenge. Each of the three classes has about twenty-four students writing a sentence or two about each of their peers and I type them out adding a compliment of my own. I have them do it anonymously; I want them to think any of the good things could be from any of their classmates or teacher. It's slow going. It takes me about twenty minutes per student so I've got my work cut out. One of the kids suggested we do it by e-mail so I could just copy and paste but I like reading their handwriting and the slow pace helps me digest what they write. You see, I'm learning about the kids from their perspective. Let me give you a sampling of what some of the teenagers have written about their peers. These are confidential and they haven't received their copies yet so names have been deleted:

 ______________ is literally the nicest and friendliest person ever. She makes everyone feel like they are her friend. She is such a positive and kind person. _____________ is just really inspiring!

I love how brave and ambitious ________ is! She is always setting goals for herself and is following through with them. She’s especially an awesome English student and willing to help others. She’s so courageous in participating in many sports, something many people cannot do.
_____________ is the definition of a gentleman- he is everything a gentleman should be! ___________ is a very intelligent guy and he is about his business, a go getter. He has a great personality and spirit about him!
_____________ always has encouraging words. If you come to her for advice, she is there to give it. She is also very caring. __________ has a good spirit and knows what she wants to be in life. She always works hard!
___________ is very hard working and has such a kind spirit about her. She dedicates herself to school work and everything she does. _________ is one who is quick to listen and slow to speak. I just love _________!
I like how ____________ is very knowledgeable and how he never seems to be in a bad mood. He has the cutest smile! He seems very squared away and is eager to make a difference in the world.
_____________  has an amazing undying spirit. Her thirst for knowledge is admirable and her passion to express her thoughts is encouraging.
_____________ is extremely friendly and funny. She gives good advice! She has helped me gain friends and helped me make new relationships. She’s also a very good athlete and an amazing warrior princess of God.

How much better of would we be if we talked about everybody like those kids spoke anonymously about each other? In Titus 3:1-2, Paul gives these words of advice to his young protege:
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,  to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
That's a decent recipe for changing the world around us, one kind word at a time.

God bless,
Steve
Luke 18:1

www.hawleybooks.com
E-mail me at steve@hawleybooks.com

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