Back in 2013, when I visited my spiritual hometown – the place where I grew up, I met two of my classmates. Fortunately, they lived a minute away from where I was staying and we got to spend wonderful hours together. I met them after 35 years – yes, you heard that right!
We talked right into the night and reluctantly slept—very very late with the happy anticipation of continuing where we left off the next morning. And we did. Lots of laughter, cooking and incessant talking later, as we set the table for brunch, my friend said she had something to show me. I followed her into a side room where she pulled down a beautiful box and from it, took out an old autograph book I instantly recognized. When we finished our 10th grade, it was traditional to get an “autograph” book (slam book?) signed by our friends. Some wrote words.
She had saved mine. Of course, I had filled the page, d’uh. She told me she never forgot what I wrote for her.
What a difference words make! We have the choice to be encouraging or thoughtless. I am not saying we shouldn’t be spontaneous, but there are innumerable opportunities to be kind to someone through words. They cost nothing and can change someone’s life or prove to be a constant source of motivation for a lifetime.
Along these lines, only way, way better, today’s Wednesday Wisdom story is a solid tear-jerker. So get your box of tissues and read. The story chokes me up every time I read it.
One day, a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name.
Then she 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 in their paper.
That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual.
On Monday she gave each student his or her list.
Before long, the entire class was smiling.
“Really?” she heard whispered.
“I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!” and, “I didn’t know others liked me so much,” were most of the comments.
No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. The teacher never found out 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. That group of students moved on.
Several years later, one of the students was killed in Vietnam and his teacher attended the funeral of that special student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature. The church was packed with his friends.
One by one those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin.
As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her.
“Were you Mark’s math teacher?” he asked. She nodded: “Yes.”
Then he said: “Mark talked about you a lot.”
After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates went together to a luncheon. Mark’s mother and father were also there, wanting to speak with his teacher.
“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. The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she 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.”
All of Mark’s former classmates started to gather around.
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, she continued, “I think we all saved our lists.”
Tears rolled down the eyes of the humble teacher.
We encounter so many people in our lives, and it’s a precious joy to see the good in all those journeys.
Did you enjoy the story? It makes me cry every single time I read it. As for me, I treasure my Mom’s handwritten notes to me like a lifeline.
Activity for you!
Now, please do this for me:
Think of someone you haven’t interacted with for a while, but have been meaning to.
Take a sheet of paper and write three things you absolutely love about them. (I know it is easier to email – but a physical note is a real treasure).
Send it to them. You’ll be amazed at the difference you make.
Compliment someone. Magnify their strengths.
Wednesday Wisdom is a series with short bursts of non-fattening, easy-to-consume wisdom in the form of stories, quotes, anecdotes, and humor.