All the Good Things
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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