Chuck was in my high-school English honors class. He was a writer of
great promise. So, when he told me he had been accepted into the
journalism program at the University of Missouri, I wasn't surprised.
During his freshman year at college, Chuck stopped by school a few times
to keep me posted on his progress. We reminisced about our work together
several years before. We had developed public service radio commercials to
raise money for twenty-three sick and abandoned Cambodian babies who
were being cared for by a nurse friend of mine in Thailand, a place far away
yet close to our hearts. Chuck was instrumental by helping to raise several
thousand dollars. It was an activity that in some ways transformed our formal
relationship into a friendship. Whenever we got together on his visits, my
spirits were always buoyed as he was filled with the joy of life.
In his sophomore year, it was discovered Chuck had lung cancer and had
only a short while to live. So he left school to come home to be near his loved
I went to see him one day, and in that mysterious way that some seriously
ill people have, he reached into a deep place of his rich humanity and made
us laugh for most of the afternoon. As I left him and hugged him good-bye, I
felt confused and angry. There seemed to be no sense in what was
About six weeks later, Chuck died. It was a great loss for everyone,
especially for his family. The youngest of nine children, Chuck was talented
and full of promise. More importantly, he was a good and decent person, a
When I went to his funeral, his father asked to speak with me. He took me
aside and told me that several weeks before, Chuck had asked him to go
over his possessions and memorabilia with him so that he might select a few
things to be buried in the coffin with him. He told me how bittersweet the
assignment was. How his heart, the heart of a father, nearly burst with love
and sadness. In the end, Chuck chose six items, including an essay he had
written in my class some years before.
He told me that Chuck had always kept the piece because he liked the
message I had written to him at the bottom of the last page. In that little note,
I affirmed his talent as a writer and I urged him to be responsible for the gift,
to be committed to it as something special. That encouraging postscript
would now go with Chuck across the great divide.
I was touched and grateful for the extraordinary gift Chuck gave me that
day. His wonderful gesture gave the teacher in me a vital insight, one that
would change my life. His taking my reassuring note with him into eternity
offered me a tremendous opportunity for impacting students' lives. I felt
reenergized with a sense of purpose that was greater than ever.
Whenever I forget my purpose, I think of Chuck, and I am reminded of it
once again: Teachers have the power to affect hearts and minds for a long
time. Some would even say for eternity.
Gerard T. Brooker, Ed.D.