“The greatest of all miracles is that we need not be tomorrow what we are today, but we can improve if we make use of the potential implanted in us by God.” - Rabbi Samuel M. Silver
He was a fifth grade teacher with an unusual last name who taught in a small middle school in upstate New York. I was a fifth grade student also with an unusual last name who somehow landed in his class. I’m not sure if it was our “special names” that drew us together but we hit it off from the very first day of school. Mr. Coffee was one of those teachers whose charm was in the way he picked on you, never with malice but in a way that made you feel unique. Growing up my last name—Cookingham—was the source of many funny culinary comments (it still is to this day). When he found out my name he decided to give me an entire new nom de plume. I became the Baron Von Burnt Bacon and I wore that title with a grin and pride.
Mr. Coffee learned of my family background and the poverty I was living in and for reasons unknown to me, he became my quiet benefactor. Soon I found myself being invited into his home, sharing meals and playtimes with his children. On certain weekends I slept over and often would go home with more clothes packed in my suitcase than what I came with. While being cheered on by his family I learned to ride a bike at his house, on his son’s bike! My first favorite football team was the Dallas Cowboys, just because I watched the games on TV with him. That summer he convinced me to let him sign me up for summer school just so I could go on all the special field trips he had planned, knowing full well it might be my only opportunity to see places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He knew I loved art and wanted me to see the Masters first hand and possibly catch a vision for something greater for myself.
This kind man brought to our classroom an energy his name would suggest. I remember wanting to push myself to please him, to conquer each subject to try to measure up to the title of Baron in his eyes. What I didn’t realize at first was that I already had his approval; the real education was to prove to myself the potential I held inside. In that way he was a releaser of dreams, an advocate of pursuing those dreams and I began to believe he was right. I was too young to fully understand just was happening but God was using a certain fifth grade teacher to change my life. God used a secular environment to teach me more about His kingdom and my place in it. Although Mr. Coffee never mentioned the name of God, he showed the Father’s love just the same. The manner in which he communicated values flowed through his gift as teacher, and his life as a man.
God used that “classroom” to set a few points on my moral compass. This man’s example helped establish bearings on those points in life that God deems important; hard work, honesty and caring for those around you. Mr. Coffee seemed to realize the greater lessons in life are taught from the heart not from books. His whole life was his classroom not four walls inside a building. His example was not so much being a great teacher (he was) but being a great person when he taught. God was teaching and reaching through this humble spirit and that made a huge difference in the life of a boy he nicknamed the Baron.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)