“Think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down…”


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, 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. I keep  it  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.   

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.
This is a true story confirmed by Snopes:

Also found at : http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/m/markeklund.htm#.U-ZrTkiSM1c

I created a Facebook Group page so we can do that here: write the nicest things about people and they can remain nameless or post it to a specific name… go for it: