Poetry

MARK

 MARK

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 aske 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 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 nigh," 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 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. 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, today, before it is too
late.

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