Copyright ©2004 by Bob Blackman
It was Thursday, December 25th, 2104 the last day of school until the first Monday of 2105. Mr. Sal Merlin was dressed in a black floor length robe, the standard attire for schoolteachers. He was teaching sixth period Social Studies, his last class of the day.
"Who can tell me what tomorrow is?" He asked.
Everybody raised their hand except Lance, who shouted, "Tax-free Friday!"
"Lance, stand up." Mr. Merlin said sternly. "In this class we raise our hand and wait to be called on."
Lance stood nervously and wiped his palms on his lime green jumpsuit. Jumpsuits were the prescribed attire for students, and some students chose to express their individuality by wearing outlandish colors. "I'm sorry sir," he mumbled.
"Well, as long as you're up, tell the class why we celebrate Tax-free days."
Lance stared at his shoes and with no certainty said, "So we can buy presents for Gifting Day?"
"And why do we celebrate Gifting Day?"
Lance stood silent and after an awkward pause, Mr. Merlin said, "Debbie, would you please explain to Lance the significance of Tax-free and Gifting Day?"
Debbie stood smugly in a wrinkle free, baby-blue jumpsuit and Lance sat down. "In 2086," she recited, "Congress passed the Tax-free Holiday act to encourage people to spend more money on the weekend before Gifting Day, and thereby bolster the economy."
She curtsied and was about to sit back down but Mr. Merlin said, "Don't sit!" He took a step toward her and said, "That was very good Debbie, word for word from your textbook, but tell me, what does 'bolster the economy' mean."
Debbie blushed and whispered, "I'm... I'm not sure."
Lance giggled. Mr. Merlin glared at him until he stopped, then continued, "It's not enough to memorize the words, you must be able to comprehend their meaning. Please be seated." She sat and Mr. Merlin continued, "Debbie, you have inherited a photographic memory, but if you use it to short-circuit the learning process, you only end up hurting yourself." He looked around the room, then asked, "Who can tell me what was happening in 2086?"
One hand was raised hesitantly. Mr. Merlin saw it and said, "Andrew?"
Andrew rose to his feet, he smoothed his forest green jumpsuit and said, "Everyone was hoarding their money because they were afraid a depression was coming, but in reality they were causing the depression by not spending enough."
"So," Mr. Merlin said, "Congress passed the Tax-free Holiday Act to stimulate spending. Did it work?"
"Yes, because the tax-free days were scheduled to fall on the weekend before Gifting Day."
"And why was the scheduling important?"
Andrew looked cautiously around the room, then said, "Everyone wanted to buy gifts, but they didn't want to spend much money. Without taxes, everything was cheaper so people brought more stuff."
Martha raised her hand. Mr. Merlin called on her and she stood up allowing Andrew to sit back down. She wore a beige jumpsuit that Mr. Merlin knew her two sisters had worn in previous years. "The book said that the problem was that too many people were giving homemade gifts. I don't understand why homemade gifts were bad. My parents says that handmade gifts are better because they're made with love."
Mr. Merlin looked around the room, made eye contact with Henry and said, "Henry, can you explain why the state says it is better to give store bought gifts?"
Henry stood and Martha sat back down. He wore a scarlet jumpsuit, the color reserved for students who parents were government officials. He spoke as diplomat, beginning with a statement of agreement, "It's true," he said, "that homemade gifts are an expression of love toward the one receiving the gift, but a purchased gift expresses love to many people the merchant the gift was purchased from, the shipper who delivered it to the store, the factory worker who built the gift, and even the original designer of the gift. A purchased gift is an act of love toward everyone involved in its production. As the old adage says 'A healthy economy is the reason for the season.'"
Martha raised her hand, then dropped it immediately, but not soon enough. "You have a question, Martha?" Mr. Merlin asked.
"Never mind," she said softly without bothering to stand up.
"Stand up, Martha," Mr. Merlin said firmly, "You must never be afraid to ask questions." Martha stood reluctantly, but didn't say anything. "Well, ask your question, Martha."
"It's not important," Martha said without looking up.
"It's important to me, and it might be important to others, but we won't know until you ask it."
"It's not really even a question, just ," She took a deep breath as if gulping courage. "It's just, that we, my family I mean, believes that Jesus is the reason for the season."
Lance laughed out loud and a several others snickered quietly but Mr. Merlin stared them into silence. Martha shrank back into her seat. "It's easy to speak, " he said, "when you think everyone will agree with you. Real courage is speaking up when you think others might laugh." He took a deep breath then said, "I wonder, is Martha the only one in this class who believes the gifting season is about Jesus, or just the only one who is willing to admit it." He looked around the class, pausing to look each student in the eye for a split second. Most of the students showed no reaction, but two of them, Jason and Lynn, quickly turned away, refusing to make eye contact. Mr. Merlin shrugged. "Oh well, it's not important," he said as the buzzer sounded. "You're all excused."
The students gathered their books and paraded past their teacher and out the door into the hallway. As Martha stepped passed him without looking up, Mr. Merlin said, "Just a minute, Martha, I'd like to speak with you."
Martha stepped out of line and waited while the last few students left. When the two of them were alone Mr. Merlin said, "I apologize if I embarrassed you. That wasn't my intent. In fact, I was quite pleased to see you take a stand."
"I knew they were going to laugh," she said.
"I know, that's why I was pleased. I wanted you to say what you believed, knowing they'd laugh at you."
"You wanted them to laugh at me?" A tear pooled in her eye and she wiped it away with the back of her hand. "I don't understand."
"No, I didn't want them to laugh at you, I wanted you to say what you believed, when you knew they'd laugh at you." He sat on the edge of his desk looking at her. "Did you know that there are three teachers at this school who believe in Jesus?"
"Well there are, but teachers are prohibited from saying so in class. A teacher can only discuss Christianity if a student brings it up and even then, we cannot express an opinion. Only students like you can remind the others that Jesus has always been the reason for the gifting season." He smiled as a memory came to him and asked, "Did you know that four years ago your sister, Mary, said the same thing in class?"
"No." she said, brushing back another tear. "Did they laugh at her too?"
"Some did, but by the end of the period, everyone in the class had heard about the birth of Jesus and the true meaning of the gifting season." As an after thought, he added, "If it hadn't been for your sister's boldness when she was in school, I might not be a Christian today."
"Mary always was the outspoken one. She never cared what people thought about her. I'm not like that."
"And I don't expect you to be. I expect you to be sweet quiet Martha, but never be afraid to quietly express what you truly believe, because if you don't tell your classmates about Jesus, it's unlikely anyone will." He walked to the door, opened it for her and said, "Now, go home and enjoy the gifting season."
Martha slipped past him and sauntered quietly down the hall. Mr. Merlin watched her go, smiled, and whispered a silent prayer for her.
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