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Home --> Glurge Gallery --> All the Good Things

All the Good Things

Claim:   A teacher's ad hoc class assignment is kept and treasured by her students.

Status:   True.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1998]

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.

By: Sister Helen P. Mrosla

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.

I leave these messages with you and ask you to continue to spread the message to everyone you know.

Origins:   This inspirational tale of the "teacher who made a difference" (and its unnecessary explanatory coda) can be found on hundreds of web sites all over the Internet and has been widely forwarded as a "good luck" chain letter via e-mail. And why not? It epitomizes principles we fervently wish to believe: that a dedicated educator (and religion) can make a positive, lasting difference in one's life; and that the world would be a better place if we found it in our hearts to reach out to each other. (Just in case we missed the point, the didactic end paragraph states it

Sister Helen Mrosla, a Franciscan nun, submitted "All the Good Things" to Proteus, A Journal of Ideas in 1991. Her article also appeared in Reader's Digest that same year, was reprinted in the original Chicken Soup for the Soul book in 1993, and was offered yet again in 1996's Stories for the Heart.

Sister Mrosla first met Mark Eklund in her third-grade classroom at St. Mary's School in Morris, Minnesota, in 1959, and she encountered him again in 1965 when she served as his junior high math teacher. In April 1971, Mark was sent to Vietnam and assigned to the 585th Transportation Company in Phu Bai where he worked in a truck parts depot, and he kept in touch with his family and friends (including Sister Mrosla) through letters. In August 1971, as she was returning from a vacation, Sister Mrosla learned of Mark's death from her parents. (Although he died in Vietnam, Mark Eklund was not killed in combat — he died in his sleep of a pulmonary and cerebral edema.)

In 1999, Sister Mrosla talked to an Associated Press reporter about Mark Eklund:
His letters to family painted a safe picture, describing his work as a clerk at a truck parts depot far from the shooting. But to friends, including Sister Mrosla, he revealed fears of dying and frustration over what he perceived as a fruitless war effort. He told his former teacher about lying in his bunk listening to a firefight one night.

"He was scared to death from the shooting," Sister Mrosla said. "He'd have nightmares about it. I remember telling him I was praying for him." She filled her letters with stories about her students and how much they were like his class.

Mourners at Mark's funeral lined the block around the red-brick Assumption Church, second only to the town's grain elevator in height. They filed up the stairs, into the sanctuary and past the open black casket. Sister Mrosla was the last in line.

[Mark's classmate Chuck] Lesmeister helped bear the casket, draped in a flag, to a hearse for the five-block ride to the cemetery, where a soldier played "Taps." As it was lowered into the ground, a soldier approached Sister Mrosla.

"Are you Mark's math teacher?" he asked. "He talked about you. You may want to talk to his parents about his personal effects."

The Eklunds were waiting for the nun when she arrived at a reception at the Lesmeister family farmhouse. Standing in the sunny kitchen, James Eklund pulled out a wallet.

"We want to show you something. They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it," he said, gently taking out a worn piece of paper that had been refolded many times and taped together.

A few of Mark's school friends who were gathered around also recognized the paper, and one by one they told her they still had theirs.

Lesmeister preserved his in his wedding album. Marilyn Lohr kept hers in her diary. And like Mark, Jim Halbe had his with him in his wallet.
Although Sister Mrosla indicated she was happy that the circulation of her article on the Internet had brought Mark's story to a global audience, she was less than pleased that it had been turned into a chain letter promising good luck to recipients who passed it on. "It cheapens it somehow," she said.

Last updated:   8 February 1999

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  Sources Sources:
    Carter, Chelsea.   "Teacher's Treasured Lesson Echoes Across Years Via Internet Chain Letter."
    Associated Press.   6 February 1999.

    Mrosla, Helen.   "All the Good Things."
    Reader's Digest.   October 1991.

  Sources Also told in:
    Canfield, Jack and Mark Victor Hansen.   Chicken Soup for the Soul.
    Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 1993.   ISBN 1-558-74262-X   (pp. 122-125).

    Gray, Alice.   Stories for the Heart.
    Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers Inc., 1996.   ISBN 1-576-73127-8.

    Maxwell, John C.   Becoming a Person of Influence.
    Nashville: Nelson Books, 1997.   ISBN 0-785-27100-7   (pp. 44-46).

    O'Reilly, James.   The Ultimate Journey.
    San Francisco: Travelers' Tales Guides, 2000.   ISBN 1-885-21138-4   (pp. 263-266).

    Trent, John.   Life Mapping.
    Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 1998.   ISBN 1-578-56146-9   (pp. 95-96)