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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Eternity (03/10/11)

TITLE: Living the Dash
By Debra Fuhrman


It was with a heavy heart I sat down at the dining room table to resume grading papers for my Creative Writing class. I had begun my first year of teaching high school enthusiastically, hoping to change the world one student at a time, hoping to make a difference in the lives of the young people in my realm of influence. Day after day, their attitudes were lackadaisical. More than once a week, I could be found sitting at my desk with hands clasped in front of me as tears ran down my cheeks. I wasn't sure I'd made the right decision, perhaps I should have majored in elementary education.

For this assignment, I had distributed handouts with names, dates and epitaphs from tombstones. Each student was to create a story using the information from one tombstone. Then, I had talked to them about "living the dash" and how your birth date and death date didn't define you.

The first few papers were worthy of saving. For starting fires. I picked up the next paper, written by one of my quiet students. James didn't speak unless spoken to. He was easily lost in the crowded classroom as I tried to maintain order and complete my lesson plan.

"Mrs. Miller, This was a really hard assignment and I know you didn't make it up to hurt anyone's feelings, because I don't think you would ever do that. But it was hard because my uncle and grandmother died in a car accident last summer. You couldn't know about it because you weren't here. I know you wanted us to write about your tombstones, but I want to write about theirs.

My uncle was a basketball star. My dad said some of the kids in his school called him the B-Ball god. He loved that. He lived with my grandma and he never had a job for very long, because Dad said he always wanted to be the star. He drank a lot, but mostly he wanted to talk about when he played basketball. When he died not a lot of people came to his visitation. The obituary made him sound like a hero but it didn't talk about anything but when he played ball. Everyone knew he wasn't a hero, he was the town drunk.

My grandma didn't die in the accident like my uncle did. She lived two more days and then she died. Hardly anyone came to her visitation or funeral. She was old and I guess most of her friends were already dead. After the funeral, a lady came up to my mom and asked her if grandma had ever talked about Tommy Harper. Mom said no, and the lady said that when my grandma was young she taught a Sunday School class and Tommy was in the class. Every Sunday, Tommy raised his hand for a prayer request. He wanted his mom and dad to live together again so he could be with them. Each week, the lady said my grandma would pray with Tommy. She said she was Tommy's daughter and she wanted us to know that she had been trying to find my grandma to tell her what happened to Tommy. Tommy led his parents to the Lord (I know you know what that means, because I saw your Bible) and they didn't get a divorce, they started going to church every Sunday with Tommy. Then some of Tommy's relatives got saved. And Tommy's daughter said it was all because of my grandma.

I think my uncle wasted his dash. He thought playing basketball in high school was a really big deal. I hope he's in heaven, but I'm sad that no one will miss him that much. My grandma is in heaven for sure and even though she would never believe it if we told her she had changed a lot of lives, she did. She changed lives for eternity. She didn't waste her dash. I don't want to either."

(I hope you're not mad that I didn't follow directions. I've never had a teacher that made me want to work hard like you do. And I'm not sucking up.)

Closing my eyes, I lifted my face toward heaven, "Thank you, Jesus! For James, for his grandmother and giving me what I need to keep trying."

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This article has been read 362 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Bonnie Bowden 03/18/11
As a teacher, you never know which student or students will rise to the top. When we get to heaven, I bet we'll be surprised by whose there and whose not.
Cheryl von Drehle03/19/11
Catchy title...it drew me to read your entry among so many choices. The story fit the title well, and moved along to keep my attention.
Mary Toll03/19/11
I could empathize with the hopelessness of believing noone is paying attention, with our hearts on the line for others in this cold cruel world. This piece so encouraged me to continue embracing the youth, hoping to impact them as well. Well put.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 03/20/11
This is positively beautiful, it was a great idea to make it a school assignment. The voice of the delightful James was perfect.

My little bit of red ink would be to make sure you have the cause and effect in the right order. For example the part this sentence was in: After the funeral, a lady came up to my mom and asked her if grandma(Grandma is used as a name and should be capitalized:) had ever talked about Tommy Harper. had me scratching my head a bit. If you had just added before Tommy Harper the words, my son,I would have understood immediately that she was his mother. It may seem like a little thing but for me it would have really helped as I had to read the paragraph a few times to understand it.

But that is just a little thing. The best part was your messages. We never know how we may impact the lives of others and how it can keep trickling down as well as how wonderful teachers are. You did an outstanding job with this one.
Lois Farrow03/20/11
I took it that the lady speaking was Tommy's daughter. Check the last sentence in the paragraph.
diana kay03/22/11
hey i really love this story. the title is clever and a perfect one for the story. I like the whole idea and the way you crafted this story.
I was so caught up in it and that is the mark of a good writer. captivating!
diana kay03/24/11
yes pipped to the post into second but that is GOOD! keep writing i look forward to more!
Missy Hendren03/25/11
God Bless you for the work you do! I know at my children's schools their teachers are so over used and under appreciated! I enjoyed your piece very much! Very heart warming and touching! Just goes to prove that you never know when you are touching some ones life!
Bonnie Bowden 03/30/11
Congratulations on your well deserved 2nd place win. It was very well written.