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  • Writer's pictureJim Donaher

Learning Life Through Chemistry

Dear God,

I was thinking about my high school chemistry teacher, Miss Cooksey.

I took chemistry my senior year. I don't know why I did that, because I knew I was in trouble if I got Miss Cooksey. I was wrong, I didn't fail, but the Nobel prize for chemistry went to someone else that year. (And every year since.)

I remember that she was engaged in the teaching, yet distant from the students. She didn’t have rapport, and she never joked, or laughed.

Yet she was somehow pleasant, and her energy level was consistently high. The only hint of a sense of humor was in her use of, to us, unimaginably big words. 'Perspicacious' was one of these. (I still have to look it up.)

Her words were her words though, and there were no excuses for missing the point. She was, in my estimation, an exceptionally good teacher.

I remember there was no fooling around in her class. Miss Cooksey never seemed angry. She didn’t yell, but she conveyed clearly through her all-business manner that she wasn’t there to babysit idiots.

She was never mean or demeaning to anyone that I saw. She took no joy in the failings of the students, nor did she celebrate their (infrequent) success.

Chemistry – the science and its teaching – were her entire focus. Chemistry’s laws were unchanging, so she sought to make sure we knew them. Seems simple, but it was very difficult – for me at least.

Lord, while I am by no means deifying Miss Cooksey, there were aspects of her program that parallel yours, as I was praying this morning when I got this insight:

  • Like you, Miss Cooksey's expectations were always clear, consistent, and unchanging.

  • Like the lessons you teach us, Miss Cooksey's topics were highly challenging.

  • Like you, Miss Cooksey provided the resources and help for anyone who was struggling.

  • Like you, Miss Cooksey was always willing to work with people during free periods or after school. In this way she is also different from you, Lord, because you are with us whenever and wherever we are, and you continue to work on us even when we are not making as much effort as we should.

  • Like you and your understanding of everything in creation, Miss Cooksey understood chemistry at a much higher level than she taught, so her comfort and ability to repackage information to help reach the student was amazing.

  • Like you, Miss Cooksey's effort was consistently high, but if a student made the effort, that is, if they made the commitment to do better, she made sure they 'got it.'

  • And like you, Miss Cooksey made sure that if a student obeyed and worked at it, life – or in her case, chemistry – was wonderful. (Or in my case, 'just barely passing' which was good enough.)

Lord, bless Miss Cooksey, wherever she is today. I hope that she has peace and joy and knows that her work touched many, whether they pursued the sciences or not.

Other than being a forgettable student in her class 42 years ago, Miss Cooksey and I had no relationship whatsoever. Yet you, Lord, used that memory to show me this insight, and the opportunity to pray for this good woman. I am grateful for that.

Thank you for blessing my life with Miss Cooksey and for the understanding that came from being in her class, even so many years later.

Lord, thank you for blessing me with the powerful memory I have. Thank you for blessing me with the clarity to remember many things from many years ago. Some of these are major events that everyone remembers – the JFK assassination, Apollo 11 landing on the moon, Nixon resigning, the Challenger explosion, 9/11 and many more things.

But you also bless me with minute details and anecdotes of my experiencing them. Where I was, who I was with, what the weather was like, and so on, making those incidents more vivid in my mind. And easier to remember.

Lately, you have blessed me with some use for these memories. You have led me to write about them, as I am here, and it is enjoyable for me, and hopefully of some value to others. I am gratified by this high school memory from long ago. I am transported to the place, the time, and the people – Dave Bouley, Goose Gosselin, Karen Beaton, Bert Kelly, Linda Rafferty and others. Even the school building, then just 15 years old, which is being demolished this summer.

Lord, with apologies for the limitations of my imagination, Miss Cooksey was like you in some ways. Tough, fair, challenging, demanding. She probably had a love for her students at some level, as no more passionate educator ever passed in front of me.

  • You have laid out your expectations (the Bible),

  • Sent your son as a teacher, role model and sacrifice for sinful people - which we all are.

  • Provided for their regular reinforcement (church services, TV programs, podcasts, websites, support groups, Bible studies and more)

  • Augmented with myriad examples of how your teachings play out in real life, and rewarded or corrected (in our lives and those of others)

  • Rewards for progress and improvement and supported for a lack thereof.

  • All without ever giving up on anyone, from the 'A' student to the struggler.

  • Not to mention, the ultimate prize, internal in heaven with God.

Since I am clearly the struggler, in life and in chemistry, I am grateful for your guidance, patience, persistence, and love. Without these, I would have flunked out long ago.

In Jesus name, AMEN!

Jim Donaher is a writer, blogger, and author of the soon to be published, "Call Him, He's Home: Learning Prayer to Start and Grow Your Relationship with God" Click the title to read an excerpt.

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