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
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. 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 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
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
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.
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 affection 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.