John Ruskin wrote the following in "Unto This Last."
"Five great intellectual professions exist in every civilized nation:
The soldier’s profession is to defend it.
The pastor’s, to teach it.
The physician’s, to keep it in health.
The lawyer’s, to enforce justice in it.
The merchant’s, to provide for it.
And the duty of all these men and women is, on due occasion, to die for it. 'On due occasion,' namely:
The soldier, rather than leave his post in battle.
The physician, rather than leave his post in plague.
The pastor, rather than teach falsehood.
The lawyer, rather than countenance injustice.
The merchant—What is his 'due occasion' of death?
It is the main question for the merchant, as for all of us. For, truly, the man who does not know when to die, does not know how to live."
On December 14, 2012, the teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, stood resolute as their 'Due Occasion' of death came. They courageously and resolutely gave their last full measure of devotion and proved to the world they knew how to live because they knew when to die.
In this time of great sorrow, I am reminded of all the teachers who poured their heart, soul and intelligence into me. I look back on my schooling and remember their daily sacrifices, willingly and lovingly made, as they stood at the front of my classroom. Now that I am older, I realize fully their sacrifices of training, education, commuting, preparation and bureaucracy fighting. I know now the challenges they overcame in penetrating the minds of inattentive students and enduring the critique of critical and absent parents.
And deep in my heart I know that my teachers would have paid that same ultimate price that the teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary paid. You have taught us all how to live, and now these few teachers have taught us the importance of knowing when to die. In light of your sacrifices, we pray that our nation would honor you and your fallen comrades by giving freely that which is due your noble vocation.
Thank you and may God bless all teachers. May your sacrifices be always honored and long remembered.
Bill Heatley has long been a friend of The High Calling and Foundations for Laity Renewal. He worked in Information Technology for the past twenty years, and wrote The Gift of Work in 2010. Recently, he has been an active member of the Theology of Work Project.