Mrs. Pope was my fifth grade teacher. I did not know the word back then, but she was a renaissance teacher. As her students, we painted, sculpted, created scrapbooks, played classroom games, learned poetry, and staged musicals complete with costumes. It was the whole-person approach completely uncharacteristic of the structured rote-learning typical teacher of that era. To Mrs. Pope knowing about Beowulf and Mozart were as important as knowing the names of all the capitols or the formula calculating the circumference of a circle.
Mrs. Pope was a big fan of Shakespeare. And, her favorite play was The Merchant of Venice because she believed it communicated important virtues. We all memorized Portia’s “Quality of Mercy” speech to Shylock, a moneylender before the Venetian court who was demanding a pound of flesh from his debtor, Antonio. Portia is disguised as an attorney pleading the case for Antonio. The words of her famous speech contain a powerful sonnet on the power of great service. I have added the word “service” where Portia had the word “mercy.” Now, stand up and read it like you were Portia in one of Mrs. Pope’s plays!!
The quality of mercy (service) is not strain’d,
it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
upon the place beneath. It is twice blest.
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
’tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
the throned monarch better than his crown.
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
the attribute to awe and majesty,
wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy (service) is above this sceptred sway.
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
it is an attribute to God himself.
Author Leo Tolstoy wrote: “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm echoed the same sentiment when she said, “Service is the rent you pay for room on this earth.” Service is not a job, a task, an assignment, or a necessary chore. It is the civilized way humans connect and contribute. It is the selfless manner we act as neighbor to everyone who shares the planet. And, when it is done with excellence, passion and sincerity, it is twice blest.