Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Two Sheets of Paper

Late one Friday afternoon, Ms. Simpson handed out two sheets of paper to each of the students in her class.  She asked the students to list the names of all their classmates on the two sheets  paper – instructing them to leave a big space between each name they wrote down.   







She then told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about that classmate, then write that thought under the person's name.  She gave her class one hour to complete this assignment.  When the time was up, she had the students turn in their papers as they left the room.  

Over the weekend, Ms. Simpson sat at her dining room table and recorded all the things her students had written down. On Monday morning, Ms. Simpson handed each student the individual list she compiled and gave them a few minutes to read it.  All the students beamed large smiles as they read what their classmates had said about them.  Ms. Simpson was glad she had used the exercise to fill up time on a Friday afternoon.

She never mentioned this assignment again and never knew if the students discussed their papers after class or even shared them with their parents. The school year ended and all of her students moved on.  For some reason, she never found the time or had the desire to repeat that exercise with any subsequent classes.

Several years passed when Ms. Simpson learned one of her former students was killed in Afghanistan and she decided to attend his funeral.  The church was packed with family and friends and many, including Ms. Simpson, walked up to the casket to pay their last respects.  
As she returned to her seat, a soldier in his dress uniform approached her and asked, "Are you Ms. Simpson - Were you Mark's teacher?"  She nodded 'yes.'  He said, "Mark talked about you a lot when we were in Afghanistan – he really enjoyed having you as his teacher.  He said you were the best teacher he ever had."

Following the funeral service, a luncheon was served in the church basement and Ms. Simpson decided to attend. Just as she finished her lunch, Mark's mother and father walked over to her.  Mark's mom said, "We’d like to thank you for coming and we want to show you something."  Mark's father took out his wallet.   He carefully removed two worn pieces of paper that had been folded and refolded numerous times and were now covered in several layers of scotch tape.

He said, "They found this on Mark when he was killed.  We thought you might recognize it."  Ms. Simpson immediately knew what those two pieces of paper were.  They were the papers on which she listed all the good things Mark's classmates had said about him.
"Thank you so much for doing this," Mark's mom said.  "Mark was so proud the day he brought these papers home - he could not stop talking about them - and, as you can see, he treasured it all his life."

Soon several of Ms. Simpson's former students, the classmates of Mark who also attended the luncheon, came forward and gathered around her.  Charlie smiled sheepishly and was the first to speak, "I still have my list, Ms. Simpson. It's in the top drawer of my dresser at home.  I look at it almost every night before I go to bed." 
Chuck's wife said, "Chuck had me put ours in our wedding album.  We show them off all the time."
"I have mine too," Marilyn said.  "It's in my diary."
Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her purse, took out her billfold and pulled out her worn and frazzled list for the group.  "I carry mine with me at all times."

Without batting an eyelash, Wanda said, "I think we all saved our lists."  
That’s when Ms. Simpson sat down at a table and  began to cry.  She cried not only for Mark and all his friends but also for all the students she had taught throughout the years that she never took the time to repeat this effortless exercise.

Having a lasting impact on those we meet in life is easier than most of us think.  Once in awhile we need to take time out of our busy schedule to point out the nice things we see in those around us, the ones we work with and the ones we serve.