I was angry! Miss Madeleine was dead – killed because some fundamentalist had blown up an airplane in order to make a statement to the world. I wondered exactly what his point was and whether he felt that he had made it. Impatiently I wiped away the tears that were silently coursing down my cheeks. I was devastated at the tragic and senseless death of my first grade teacher, because she had made a difference, not only to my life, but also to the lives of hundreds of children that had passed through her hands.
On my first day at school, I thought she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen.
“Mary!” Her voice was like liquid sunshine. “How lovely to have you in our class. You are going to meet so many new friends and have such a lot fun. Say goodbye, to Mommy and come with me.”
One day my mother didn’t come to fetch me. The afternoon dragged on until eventually I was the only child left at school. Miss Madeleine looked worried. Finally she took me home with her. She must have decided to use this opportunity to clean me up a bit for I was plunged into a bath of hot, soapy water and thoroughly scrubbed. The next morning, she helped me to get ready for school. She found an old dress for me and tied a ribbon in my newly washed hair. I felt like a princess.
That afternoon when my mother arrived to fetch me she looked angry and I knew that someone must have spoken to her about her responsibilities. What I didn’t know was that a social worker had been contacted and had already paid a visit to my home.
Rocco, my mother’s boyfriend, was furious. He was furious with Miss Madeleine. He was furious with my mother and most of all, he was furious with me. I quaked in terror when I thought of his wrath.
“Ho!” he roared. “Miss High And Mighty all dolled up! You think you’re too good for us, eh? Well, Missy, you need to be taught a lesson.” And he unbuckled his belt and advanced with an evil grin.
“You’ve been telling tales on us, haven’t you? Well, I’ll show you what happens to little girls that have mouths that are too big for their faces!” and with that he punched me. Black spots danced in front of my eyes and I fell to the floor in a crumpled, whimpering heap. Then he began to whip me and I thought that he wasn’t going to stop until he killed me. Eventually he picked me up by the scruff of my neck and tossed me out into the garden like a bag of garbage. I don’t know how long I lay there, my body trembling and quivering under the terrible punishment it had received. Gradually it began to register in my consciousness that I had better get away before Rocco decided to come outside and finish what he had started. Slowly and painfully, I crawled to the road and then rose unsteadily to my feet. The only person I could think of was Miss Madeleine and I knew that I had to try and find her. But how? It was late and I had no idea how to get to her house. Then I remembered what she had told me the day before.
“Pray, Mary,” she said earnestly. “Pray to Jesus and He will guide you. He loves you so much and wants to help you.”
I stared at her incredulously. Jesus loves me?? A worthless nuisance! A nothing!
So I prayed to Jesus and as I was praying I became aware that I was not alone. Someone took my hand and a warm glow filled my body, giving me strength and energy. I don’t remember the journey to Miss Madeleine’s house but I believe that I was carried there by an angel.
Rocco was arrested and I was removed from my mother’s care. I was sad that I was no longer in Miss Madeleine’s class, but I would never forget how she helped me when I was a frightened and abused little first grader and how she taught me the most important lesson of my life. How to pray.
Miss Madeleine, you were truly one of the unsung heroes of this world and I salute you as you sit at the feet of Jesus and sing with the angels.
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