He was in the first third grade class I taught at
Saint Mary's School in Morris, Minn. 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 mischievousness 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 Mark 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 instruction in
the "new math," he did not talk as much in ninth grade
as he had in 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 their 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 lull in the conversation. Mother gave Dad
a sideways 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 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 his 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. Mrosla 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, tell the people you love and care
for, that they are special and important. Tell them,
before it is too late.