The Eternal Gifts

The Eternal Gifts

From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul

The Eternal Gifts

In the darkest hour the soul is replenished and given strength to continue and endure.

Heart Warrior Chosa

“Is that true, or did you just put it on the bulletin board because it sounds catchy?”

“Iswhat true?” I askedwithout looking up frommy desk.

“That sign you made that says, ‘If you can conceive it and believe it you can achieve it’.”

I looked up into the face of Paul, one of my favorite people, but most definitely not one of my best students. “Well, Paul,” I said, “the man who wrote those words, Napoleon Hill, did so after years of research into the lives of great men and women. He discovered that concept, stated in many different ways, was the one thing they all had in common. Jules Verne put it another way when he said, ‘Anything the mind of one man can imagine, the mind of another man can create’.”

“You mean if I get an idea and really believe in it, I can do it?” He asked with an intensity that captured my total attention.

“From what I have seen and read, Paul, that’s not a theory, but a law that has been proved throughout history.”

Paul dug his hands into the hip pockets of his Levi’s and walked in a slow circle around the room. Then he turned and faced me with a new energy. “Mr. Schlatter,” he said, “I’ve been a below-average student my whole life, and I know it’s going to cost me later in life. What if I conceived of myself as a good student and really believed it . . . that even I could achieve it?”

“Yes, Paul, but know this: If you really believe it, you’ll act on it. I believe there is a power within you that will do great things to help you, once youmake the commitment.”

“What do you mean, commitment?” he asked.

“Well, there’s a story about a preacher who drove out to the farm of a member of his congregation. Admiring the beauty of the place, he said, ‘Clem, you and the Lord have certainly created a thing of beauty here’.”

“‘Thank you, preacher,’ said Clem, ‘but you should have seen it when the Lord had it all to himself.’

“In essence, Paul, God will give us the firewood, but we have to light the match.”

A suspenseful silence followed. “All right,” Paul said, “I’ll do it. By the end of the semester, I’ll be a B student.”

It was already the fifth week of the term and in my class, Paul was averaging a D.

“It’s a tall mountain, Paul, but I also believe you can achieve what you just conceived.” We both laughed and he left my room to go to lunch.

For the next 12 weeks, Paul gave me one of the most inspirational experiences a teacher can have. He developed a keen curiosity as he asked intelligent questions. His new sense of discipline could be seen in a neater appearance and a fresh sense of direction in his walk. Very slowly, his average started to rise, he earned a commendation for improvement and you could see his self-esteem start to grow. For the first time in his life, other students started to ask him for his help. A charm and charismatic friendliness developed.

Finally came the victory. On a Friday evening, I sat down to grade a major test on the Constitution. I looked at Paul’s paper for a long time before I picked up my red pen and started to grade it. I never had to use that pen. It was a perfect paper, his first A+. Immediately, I averaged his score into the rest of his grades and there it was, an A/B average. He had climbed his mountain with four weeks to spare. I called my colleagues to share the news.

That Saturday morning, I drove to school for a rehearsal of Follow the Dream, the play I was directing. I entered the parking lot with a light heart to be greeted by Kathy, the best actress in the play and one of Paul’s best friends. Tears were streaming down her face. As soon as I got out of my car, she ran over to me and almost fell against me in a torment of sobs. Then she told me what had happened.

Paul was at a friend’s house and they were looking at the collection of “unloaded” guns in the den. Being boys, they started to play cops and robbers. One boy had pointed an “unloaded” gun at Paul’s head and pulled the trigger. Paul fell with a bullet lodged in his brain.

Monday, a student aide came in with a “check-out” notice for Paul. There was a box next to “book” to see if I had his test, and next to the box marked “grade” was written “unnecessary.”

“That’s what you say,” I thought to myself, as I marked a big red B in the box. I turned my back to the class so they could not see the tears. Paul had earned that grade and it was here, but Paul was gone. Those new clothes he had bought with his paper route money were still in his closet, but Paul was gone. His friends, his commendation, his football award were still here, but Paul was gone. Why?

One good thing about total, complete grief is that it humbles a person to such an extent that there is no resistance to the voice of that loving, unleashed power that never leaves us.

“Build thee more stately mansions, oh, my soul.” As the words of that old poem spoke to my heart, I realized that Paul did not leave everything behind. The tears started to dry and a smile came to my face as I pictured Paul still conceiving, still believing and still achieving, armed with his newly developed curiosity, discipline, sense of direction and self-esteem—those invisible mansions of the soul that we are here to cultivate.

He had left us with a great deal of wealth. Outside the church on the day of the funeral, I gathered my drama students around and announced that rehearsals would start the next day. In remembrance of Paul and all he had left us, it was time once again to follow the dream.

Jack Schlatter

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