The Greatest Gift
If he hadn’t bumped into me, I’d never have noticed him.
“Sorry Mr. Clarke, I didn’t see you.”
“No problem.” I blurted out catching my notes.
“Jake” he said, as he switched the mop to his left hand, and reached out to shake mine. I stammered out a half hearted “Good to meet you”, and then continued rushing down the hall to my class. You learn to be on time teaching tenth grade English. I rushed in just before the bell rang; ruining any chance my class had to cash in on my tardiness. A collective sigh from the students signaled my victory.
I pulled another long day the following Friday working until seven. I knew Nancy would be angry because I missed dinner again, but I’d have to smooth things over later. Teaching was loosing its luster I thought, and I darted for the door. Quickly rounding the corner I spotted Jake. He was working on a locker. “Hello Mr. Clarke” he said with a big smile.
“Hello Jake – got a tough one?”
“Not really. It just needs adjustment.”
“Well good luck.” I walked by briskly trying to give the appearance of being late for something.
“Say, Mr. Clarke, got a minute?” I turned around, fighting the urge to claim that I didn’t.
“Sure, what can I do for you?”
“Well, it’s not so much for me, it’s for a friend.”
“Uh, I’ve got this friend… he’s not very good at reading, and he’s looking for some help.”
“How old is your friend?” I quickly tried to come up with names of student tutors as Jake turned back to the locker.
“He’s not in school anymore; he’s about my age, ‘round forty I guess.”
“Does he live near by?”
“Not far.” I started to get the feeling that Jake’s “friend” was really Jake.
“Jake, do you have a hard time reading?”
“Who? me? Nah, I can read just fine. It’s my friend…” He stopped cold. Slowly turning the dial on the combination lock, a look of sadness came over him.
“Look, Jake, there’s no shame in not being able to read. The good news is that something can be done about it.” I suddenly realized that I was the one in need, not him. I started to feel like a teacher again. It felt good.
“Jake, if what you’re asking for is help in learning to read, I’d be glad to teach you.”
“Sure. Show up at my office after school tomorrow and we’ll get started.”
“Okay, I’ll be there.”
“Great.” As I started down the hall again, I heard the locker shut with a decisive slam followed by a faint “all right!”
The following day he showed up right on time with notebook in hand. “Come on in Jake. I’ve put together some material to get you started.” He slowly walked into the room and sat down at a table.
“I really need learn the basics Mr. Clarke. I can’t read a thing.”
“Don’t you worry; you’ll be reading in no time.”
“Okay, if you say so.”
“I say so.”
The next few months proved challenging as Jake worked his way to a tenth grade reading level. I left Madison High shortly after our last session, but I heard Jake was doing fine, and he was reading with an appetite for the classics.
One Monday in March I was working late again when I got a call. It was Jake’s twenty year old daughter Kelly.
“This is Kelly Mason, Jake Mason’s daughter.”
“Hello Kelly, how are you?”
“Mr. Clarke, I’m calling to tell you that my dad was killed in an auto accident last week.” My heart sunk. As my eyes began to fill with tears, Kelly said the reason Jake approached me was so that he could learn to read the notes, cards, and letters she had written to him years ago as a little girl. “He said the greatest gift he’d ever received was being able to hear his little girl’s voice again through the words on a page. It allowed him to go back. He’d always regretted that he couldn’t read them while letting me think he could. I’m calling to thank you — from both of us. Thank you for giving us that wonderful gift.” Slowly hanging up the phone I also gave thanks; thanks to a loving God for introducing me to Jake, and thanks for giving me the wonderful gift of teaching.
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