The sneeze

Meg Duncan is a columnist for the Courier-Post.
Meg Duncan
Courier-Post Columnist
Posted: Nov. 21, 2018 10:04 am

Sixth Grade history class.

A multiple-choice quiz sat on the little desk in front of me and I finally circled George Washington.

I don't know if the answer was George Washington because it was twenty-nine years ago.

But this next part, I will never forget.

The sneeze.

She was across the room taking the same test and as it rang out, a few kids giggled.

The teacher shushed the laughter, and everyone returned to what they were doing – even the Sneezer. She likely doesn’t remember this fleeting nose tickle that happened nearly three decades ago. No one probably remembers.

Except me.

I can still point out the room midways down the hall on the second floor. I can walk right to the spot where I sat and several rows over where her desk was perfectly placed.

I cannot say whether it was a divine placing or a random event as her head crashed into her sleeve with an echoing, "AAACHEW!" causing a mucus catapult to aim just at my direction.

I truly believe everything happens for a reason, but as I stared at the rather large, semi-solid, blob of snot that had just landed on my paper -- right on top of the next question I was supposed to answer— I wasn’t sure what to do.

I stared at that snot blob for so long I could easily pick it out of a police lineup.

Envious of the students around me with booger-free papers, I carefully wadded the test up, went to my teacher’s desk and threw it in the trash.

She looked at me like I'd lost my mind.

"What in the world are you doing?"

The classroom's attention now fully on me, I could not find words. Not only was I painfully shy, I didn't want to embarrass the Sneezer.

"I…uh…messed up. Can I have another one?"

I was pretty sure she was going to refuse and just fail me, but her hand reached into the trash can.

I tried to stop her — I swear I did. She grabbed the paper and un-wadded it.

Her face went from horror to confusion and then there seemed to be an understanding.

A sneeze rang out from across the room. I could only catch her eye and beg her to see the problem. I don’t know if she understood or if she decided to just lean on God for understanding (like many teachers do).

But she quietly threw it back the trash and handed me a blank one.

I finished the test, handed it in, and probably got a C or worse because even the snot blob couldn't save me from the fact that I didn't study.

My teacher and I never discussed the situation again.

And now on Thanksgiving, I revisit that situation because during the hardest and most unyielding year yet, I have come to realize everything really does happen for a reason. God hands us the gift of insight in sometimes the strangest (and rather disgusting) packages.

Thirty years later, I work a floor down from where that happened.

I'm not a teacher. My job isn't nearly as hard. But I am grateful for the opportunity to interact with kids and maybe make a difference in some small way.

Sometimes they sit and wait to talk to a principal at a little desk outside my door.

And I just can't help but wonder what they are thinking.

What are they too afraid to say?

What are they too embarrassed to tell?

Is this the day that no one else will remember but they will never forget?

I will likely never know. Some choose to tell me a few things during their stay next to my office door — but it’s impossible to hear what they aren’t saying.

Thankfully, I don’t have to do the very important job of disciplining. I am grateful for those who do because the highest form of love sometimes comes in teaching lessons learned the hard way.

For me, though, I just offer them the same I was given all those years ago.

A little smile and a little mercy.

So, this year as I sit around the Thanksgiving table, I will remember the sneeze and the lesson it taught me – but hopefully forget the snot blob – we are eating, after all.

In Case You Missed It

The Community Foundation awards 46 grants at Central Park ceremony
HANNIBAL | The Community Foundation Serving West Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri awarded $136,554 worth of grants to 46 different non-profit organizations in the 12-county area it serves across Missouri and Illinois on Thursday morning at the Central Park gazebo in Hannibal.