The young teacher stood before his class, giving them what he knew was his last lesson. Very soon, the troops of the regime would come to take him away and he would never return. His only crime had been to instill in the minds and souls of his students a desire to know the value of their being and to seek, in whatever fashion they could, the truth of caring for each other in a fragile world.
The story, titled “The Last Lesson” appeared in an elementary school reader sometime in the 1930s. Perhaps the author was all too familiar with the clouds of war gathering in Europe (for that was the setting of the story) and the repressive and totalitarian governments that were emerging. The story then becomes a statement about not yielding the strength of one’s soul to the oppressive fear created by brutality, greed, power and control. In other words, the story is a message about tending to the soul and its desire to preserve what it was intended to be.
Although written for a different time in history, it could just as easily be set in our own time and place. Throughout the world there is chaos that creates great fear, suspicion of others, a drive for self protection and by the ruthless pursuit of the gods of power. But the story, and our involvement in it, is not about the breakdown of so much in society we have come to believe was safe and permanent. Rather, it is about the resilience of the indomitable struggle of the soul to be greater than the forces that would tear down its resolve.It is about the belief that the environment should be protected, the hungry fed, that health care should be accessible to all, that individuals should be respected for who and what they are and that education should be free to open minds to explore and to think “what if!”
Somewhere in the morass of confusion and chaos that has ensnarled our nation, it is time to listen to the voice of that brave young teacher and therefore tend to the soul that reaches for a more powerful and caring way to live, a spark that cannot be extinguished, a lesson that will never end.