Remember Your Death
I have a pretty realistic looking human skull on my desk, positioned to face my high school students. It’s constantly “looking” at them. I acquired the skull years ago from an old classroom closet and placed it on my desk. Students immediately started to notice the skull and asked, “Mr. Bitting, why do you have a skull on your desk?” I responded with Sirach 7:36, “In whatever you do, remember your last days, and you will never sin.” I also tell them about the Latin phrase memento mori (remember your death) and show them images of saints depicted with skulls on their desks as a reminder of death and motivation to avoid sin. Even students who are not in my class stop by to ask me about it.
One feature that I like is the removable top portion of the skull. I placed a sticky note with ‘Sirach 7:36’ on the inside of the skull top so I could remove the top and show the verse to inquiring students. The skull has the accurate dimensions of an adult human skull but was bleached and had markings on it from previous teachers. The unnatural color bothered one student in particular, who I’ll call Alex.
Prior to having Alex in my class for his junior year, I had been warned about him. He had spent most of his freshman and sophomore years trying to shock as many students and faculty as possible with his love of heavy metal, violence, satanic images, and affinity for atheism. Our Lord brought Alex to the front of my mind often, and each time I would intentionally pray for him. Shortly after Alex became one of my students, I found out that he had a hobby of creating masks, the kind one typically sees in horror movies or worn by heavy metal bands. One day Alex asked me if he could paint the skull. I said yes but under two conditions: 1) I wanted it to look as realistic as possible, as if it had just been exhumed, not scary like a Halloween decoration and 2) he had to paint the verse Sirach 7:36 on the inside of the skull top. He agreed and took the skull home over Christmas break. When we returned from break in January, he brought me the skull. It looked amazing! Even more students now noticed the skull and asked about it, giving me the opportunity to catechize them about death, sin, and our hope of resurrection in Christ. I praised Alex for the good use of his talents and drew positive attention to him, as I told others that he did the painting, including the Scripture verse. He was proud of his work and seemed to appreciate the compliments he received from other students, even more than the typical shock he normally evoked from them.