• Paul Rutherford

SOUL FOOD


A while ago, I wrote about a tutor from my university days who went out of his way to acknowledge the contribution of the lesser-known people who served his community. He was in my thoughts again when I read the following story in Jack Kornfield’s excellent The Wise Heart: Buddhist Psychology for the West. Some years ago, I heard the story of a high school history teacher… On one particularly fidgety and distracted afternoon she told her class to stop all their academic work. She let her students rest while she wrote on the blackboard a list of names of everyone in the class. Then she asked them to copy the list. She instructed them to use the rest of the period to write beside each name one thing they liked or admired about that student. At the end of the class she collected the papers. Weeks later, on another difficult day just before the winter break, the teacher again stopped the class. She handed each student a piece of paper with his or her name on top. On it she had pasted all twenty-six good things that other students has written about that person. They smiled and gasped with pleasure that so many beautiful qualities were noticed about them. Three years later this teacher received a call from the mother of one of her former students. Robert had been a cut-up, but one of her favourites. His mother sadly passed on the terrible news that Robert had been killed in the Gulf War. The teach attended the funeral, where many of Robert’s former friends and high school classmates spoke. Just as the service was ending, Robert’s mother approached her. She took out a worn piece of paper, obviously folded and refolded many times, and said: ‘This was one of the few things in Robert’s pocket when the military retrieved his body.’ It was the paper on which the teacher had so carefully pasted the twenty-six things his classmates has admired. …Another former student standing nearby opened her purse, pulled out her own carefully folded page, and confessed that she always kept it with her. A third ex-student said that the page was framed and hanging in his kitchen; another told how the page had become part of her wedding vows. Coincidentally, on Monday I heard someone say to a former colleague:

“Remember the ‘what I learned’ letter you wrote me at the end of our last project together? I cleared out many of my papers when I moved house recently - but I kept your letter. It means a lot." How far a thoughtful word of recognition can carry.

Coachaiku: 17-syllable reflections, in a 5-7-5 form, for personal and professional development.

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