A Touch of Lemon

A Touch of Lemon

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

A Touch of Lemon

When I met Mr. Jim Lemon I was a seventeen-year-old freshman at Houston’s Jackson Junior High and the chances of my finishing high school were slim. I was a troubled teenager with an attitude, living in a neighborhood that fostered troubled teenagers.

Mr. Lemon taught American history and it was clear from the first day that his classroom was not going to be disrupted. It was apparent very quickly that Mr. Lemon was quite different from the other teachers I had known. Not only was he a disciplinarian, he was a great teacher. He would never settle for my usual standard of classroom work. Mr. Lemon pushed and prodded and never tolerated the mediocrity that had become my standard.

On the occasion of our first semester report cards, Mr. Lemon called me aside and asked how it was possible that I was a B student in his class and a D and F student in the rest of my classes. I was ready for that question. I passionately told him about my divorced parents, the local gangs, the drugs, the fights, the police—all of the evils I had been subjected to. It was then that Mr. Lemon patiently explained that the only person responsible for my situation was me. And the only person with the potential to change my situation was me, and that when I personally accepted that responsibility I could make a significant change in my life. He convinced me that I was failing not because I was a failure, but because I was not accepting the responsibility for my results in those other classes.

Mr. Lemon was the first teacher I had who made me believe in myself. He inspired me to become a better student and he changed my life.

Ten years later I was preparing to graduate from Chaminade University in Honolulu when I spoke to him again. It had taken weeks of telephone calls to find him but I knew what I had to say. When I finally did get him on the telephone I explained what his classroom toughness had meant to me, how I finally graduated from high school, and how I was a staff sergeant in the Army, married with a daughter.

Most of all I wanted him to know that I was about to graduate magna cum laude after going to school for four hours a night, four nights a week for three years. I wanted him to know that I could never have done it if he had not been a part of my life.

Finally, I told him that I had been saving money that I could invite he and his wife to come to Hawaii at my expense to be a part of my graduation.

I’ll never forget his response. He said, “Who is this again?” I was just one of hundreds of students whose life he changed and he had no idea of his impact.

Mr. Lemon never came to my graduation, but his absence taught me another valuable lesson.

Mr. Lemon’s final lesson for me was that we will probably never know or understand the impact we have on other people’s lives. He taught me that we all have the opportunity to effect people’s lives for the better . . . or for the worse.

Rick Phillips

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