A Lesson to Remember

Sudha Khristmukti

Mustaq had unkempt hair and smelly feet. He wore the filthiest school uniform I had ever seen and carried a torn and perpetually dirty schoolbag, which contained equally dirty notebooks and textbooks.

     “Does he ever take a bath?”

     “What do you suppose is the original color of his schoolbag?”

     “Ugh! I wish he were in another class!”

     “Why does the school allow him to be here?”

Such were the sneering remarks frequently made about him.

Mustaq sat alone on the first bench on the left side of the classroom. Between classes, while the other students talked and laughed together, Mustaq stared at the fields outside the window. No one talked to him; no one bothered.

Mustaq always needed extra help from the teacher. He struggled with every subject. We wondered if he would make it through high school.

Taking a Risk

I often smiled at Mustaq but always from afar. I was careful to keep my distance. One afternoon as the class took a short break, I saw Mustaq planted on his bench, poring over a poem. English was his worst subject, and he hated poetry in particular. Yet there he sat, all alone, preparing for an upcoming English test.

I mustered up enough courage to approach him and, holding my breath, asked if he would like some help. He nodded yes; and line by line, I revealed to him the meaning of the poem. As I turned a page in his book, I noticed a crumpled page that had been torn and was now held together by some nasty thick gooey stuff.

“What is this?” I couldn’t help but exclaim in horror. Mustaq hung his head in shame and mumbled, “It is cooked rice. I can’t afford to buy glue.” He went on: “My mother and I are very poor, and these are old discarded textbooks a teacher gave me.”

I was stunned. Everything finally dawned on me—the dirty uniform, the teachers’ patience, the books that were falling apart.

Reaching Out

I told my friends about Mustaq’s plight, that he had only one uniform, that he and his mother could barely afford to buy food.

School and office supplies on a wooden table. Back to school.One morning, when Mustaq walked to his desk, he found a glue-stick, a pencil box, a pair of socks, new notebooks, and a neatly folded uniform. Overcome with emotion, he glanced at me and fled the class. We found him under a staircase, sobbing. “Thank you, thank you,” he choked. When we returned to the classroom, two students were sitting at his usually vacant bench. Mustaq smiled through his tears.

Every now and then, classmates mysteriously surprised him with gifts to meet his needs. He even received a new red schoolbag!

But the greatest gift given that school year was Mustaq’s gift to us. He made us realize our own blessings and how we took them for granted. He taught us to show compassion instead of judgment. He challenged us to look beyond ourselves, to share from what we had, no matter how little it was.

What Mustaq taught us couldn’t be found in any syllabus or textbook, but it was a lesson we badly needed to learn. This lesson in life—to look beyond the surface, to love and to be compassionate—was indeed a lesson to remember.



At school, at church, or in your community, whom do you look down upon or snub? What do you really know about this person and about his or her background? You may be shocked to learn the truth about his or her circumstances. Christ calls us to show compassion and not to cast judgment. Be courageous and take a risk; show this person the love of Christ in human form.

Sudha Khristmukti is a writer from Gujarat, India.

–from devozine (March/April 2009). Copyright © 2009 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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