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She taught us how to smile

She never taught a class, she never raised her voice, (except perhaps to hit the perfect note in a song), and she never wrote anything on a blackboard, and yet, she taught so many people invaluable lessons – lessons we could never find in a book, the Internet or the brightest of lecturers.

She taught us how to smile – genuine smiles; smiles of love; smiles that show care and concern and, smiles that split your spleen not to burst into full blown laughter.

I remember Sr. Doreen Cuschieri becoming headmistress of St. Dorothy’s School Mdina. It was some time in the late eighties when she first joined and she then served for decades. I don’t know where she was working before that, but from the first day that she got to our school, she ruled, not with an iron fist, but with a smile that betrayed her strength. 

She walked around corridors as though someone had just whispered a naughty joke in her ear, she walked into classrooms announcing news as though someone had just tickled her silly, and she delivered bad news to parents and children with the kindest and sweetest of hopes.

For Sister Doreen, who sadly left this world today, on her birthday nonetheless, and after a long battle with pain and agony, life was a gift – ‘a gift from God’, she’d say, and she made sure to thank him for it with the way she lived and treated others.

I was never the religious type, and being in a Catholic convent school could have proven problematic, but not with Sr. Doreen at its helm. Doreen, as she insisted that we’d call her in her later years, taught us tolerance, patience, love and laughter; most of all she taught us that good morals and values need not be tied to a religion or creed.

She taught us that ‘loving thy neighbour’ was just as valid to the atheist as it was to the Muslim and the Catholic.  And I believed her, I totally believed her, for the simple reason that she herself was happy and always made those around her feel good.

Thanks to that constant, genuine, smile, I knew from a very young age, that this woman was on to something, and I held on to it.

Dear Doreen, I will always remember you for that inimitable smile, your total incapability to keep a straight face when ‘naughty’ children were sent to your office (supposedly to get reprimanded), your attempt at playing volleyball and your love for life and others.

Rest in peace dear Doreen.  Your work is done.  You may now report to your headmaster’s office for eternal laughs and love.

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