We moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1964. We left one of the largest congregations in Dallas, Texas, sold all we had at 20 per cent of value and boarded the Queen Elizabeth for her final voyage to England. Flying into Aldergrove Airport for the first time, we were amazed at the beauty of the Emerald Isle. This would be our home for the next four years.
Our oldest son needed to get his first driver’s license. Go to the Municipal building and they would issue a large plastic “L” to go on your windshield. With that and a licensed driver as your companion, you are then qualified to “Learn to drive”.
When you see the “L” on the window screen (windshield), you slow down and move to the left hand side of the road and survive the passing of the “L” behind the wheel. In Ireland, you still drive on the left hand side of the road.
One morning I was driving our van and just forgot and pulled onto on a major highway on the wrong side of the road. Cars skidded here and there trying to dodge me and when the dust was settled Irishmen from every direction were headed for my van. Irishmen always cherish a good fight. I didn’t know what to do, so I just pointed to the “L” which they had not seen. The leader stopped cold, and turned to the others and yelled, “Auk, man, he’s just a learner. Get back in your car and leave him be.” Then he proceeded to direct me in a ‘U‘ turn and ran along with the van saying, “That’s right laddie, you’re going right now.”
I wanted to stop the van and rip that “L” off the windshield and just put it over my heart and just be a learner all my life. That “L” is posted here in my study today.
With the permission of the authorities the plan was set and began with the first morning class. These were seniors and when they entered the classroom they were stunned. There were no desks in the room. The teacher invited them all to sit on the floor and she said that the room would remain without desks until they could explain why they were removed.
“It’s our grades,” one said and she said “no, that’s not it.” Another said, “Maybe it’s our behavior”, and the teacher just shook her head in the negative. Class after class came in and soon the whole school knew that there were no desks in room 107. The first period, second, third and after lunch the fourth period, students sat on the bare floor doing their work. By early afternoon, television news crews had been admitted to Mrs. Cothren’s classroom and were filming the afternoon sessions. The report was simple, the teacher was “nuts” and had all the desks removed. She just continued to say, “You have to earn the right to sit at your desk,” and no one could give her the proper answer as to why they were removed.
At this point Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it. Twenty Seven (27) U.S. Vets walked into the classroom, wearing their uniforms of various color and kind. Each one carrying a school desk. The vets began placing the desks in rows, then moving over to stand alongside the wall. By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place, the kids began to realize, for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned.
Martha broke the silence and said, “You didn’t earn the right to sit at these desks. These heroes did it for you. It is your responsibility to LEARN, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price they didn’t owe for the price you couldn’t pay. They bought the freedom so you could get an education. Don’t ever forget it.”
All the students stood in awe, applauding. Then they turned and in line, moved past the vets, shaking hands, some hugging, all expressing a new found joy in sitting at a desk.
The big “L” should be painted on every desk. This is the greatest of all degrees awarded in life. Paper degrees mean little to those who never learn.
I’m holding in my hand a small stone. It could be one of many found in any river bed. But this one is special. It came from the fresh waters of the River Jordan. The beginning of the Jordan comes from the overflow of the Sea of Galilee. The sea is beautiful. From the golden sands of its beaches to the lush green meadows that surround it, the sea finds its life in GIVING.
The Jordan received the fresh waters of Galilee and begins its wandering south the length of Israel. At the end of that journey, the Jordan gives its waters to another sea, called the DEAD SEA. This sea is dead because it only receives and never gives. It turns the fresh waves of the Jordan roll into salt.
This is the story of two lives. One gives and one only receives. This was teaching of Martha Cothren, that desks are there to help us learn, not only how to live but how to give.
Freedom always has a price to be paid.