Dr. Ernest N. Prabhakar (ernest@pundit)
Wed, 24 Sep 97 07:54:57 -0700

Okay, this is a bit more sentimental than I usually go for, but maybe
I'm just getting soft and nostalgic as I prepare to leave LA.

-- Ernie P.

All the Good Things:

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. 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

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. Marked 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 side-ways glance and simply says,
"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 Chucks
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.

written by: Sister Helen P. Mrosia

The purpose of this letter, is to encourage everyone to compliment
the people you love and care about. We often tend to forget the
importance of showing our affections and love. Sometimes the smallest
of things, could mean the most to another.

I am asking you, to please send this letter around and spread the
message and encouragement, to express your love and caring by
complimenting and being open with communication. The density of
people in society, is so thick, that we forget that life will end one
day. And we don't know when that one day will be. So please, I beg of
you, to tell the people you love and care for, that they are special
and important.

Tell them, before it is too late.