Get High On Life: Lessons in living are all around us

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 29, 2002


Many years ago, I remember reading a story in the “Reader’s Digest” about a soldier killed in Vietnam. The story told about the short life of Mark Eklund and his relationship with Sister Mrosla, who taught Mark in the third grade in the small town of Morris, Minn.

I had forgotten about the story until last week when a news release shared the same detailed story. It so happened that a lady named Sandy Kudenov from Livermore, Calif., received the same story on the Internet and was told to pass it on. She first wanted to know if the story was true, so she called Sister Mrosla. The nun admitted that it was.

“After teaching for 35 years . . . I know that I’ll never had another Mark Eklund,” begins Sister Mrosla. He was one of a kind, the type of student one never forgets. He was a precious, polite kid who drew attention without trying.

Their first encounter was in 1962 while Mark was in the third grade. Mark tested Sister Mrosla daily with his shenanigans. Once, she sent him to the cloakroom for misbehaving and he climbed out the window of the two-story school, up the fire escape and onto the roof.

“Mark talked incessantly,” she related. “I had to remind him again and again of the classroom rule that talking without permission was not acceptable.” After each correction, Mark would impress the good nun with his simple response: “Thank you for correcting me, Sister.”

One day, Sister Mrosla’s patience ran out and she made the mistake of threatening to tape Mark’s mouth shut if he didn’t keep quiet. Within 10 seconds, Mark again talked out of turn. Sister had to follow though with her threat and did, indeed, tape Mark’s mouth. The tape was the shape of an X. She continued her reading class and glanced at Mark with his taped mouth. At that moment, he winked at her. This melted the teacher’s heart and she started laughing. The whole class cheered as she walked to Mark’s desk and removed the tape.

Sister Mrosla was later moved to the junior high school where she again had Mark in the eighth grade. One Friday after a tough week, she sensed her students were struggling and feeling dejected. She told them to put their books away, get a sheet of paper and write the name of each student in class on every one line. Next to each name they were to write a kind word, a sincere compliment. She took the papers home, compiled the list for each student on legal-sized paper, and gave each student the comments concerning them, adding her own compliment. On Mark’s paper, someone had written, “A great friend.”

Years passed. The schoolchildren grew up. Life went on. In 1971, Sister Mrosla was told that Mark had been killed in Vietnam. He had written to her and shared his fears of dying and frustration over what he perceived as a fruitless war effort.

In the sanctuary, as she viewed Mark’s body in the black casket, she thought, “Mark, I would give all the masking tape in the world if only you would talk to me.”

At the cemetery, a soldier played “Taps.” Another soldier approached Sister Mrosla and asked if she had been Mark’s math teacher. “He talked about you all the time,” he said.

At the Eklunds’ home after the funeral, Mr. Eklund had the wallet that was found on Mark when he was killed. In it was a worn piece of paper that had been refolded many times. Sister Mrosla knew without looking at the writing that the paper was the one from the eighth grade on which was listed all the good things that Mark’s classmates and she had said about him. Some of Mark’s old classmates were there and each one admitted that they, too, still had their papers.

That’s when Sister Mrosla finally just sat down and cried. “He gave so much to all of us,” she said.

Isn’t it amazing how some of the people we meet in life and sometimes take for granted, give us such a powerful lesson in living?

HAROLD KELLER writes this column as part of his affiliation with the Get High on Life religious motivational group. Call him at (985) 652-8477, or write him at P.O. Drawer U, Reserve, La. 70084.