This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!

I grew up in a city that was ravaged by civil war. Beirut was less of a capital and more of a group of sectarian neighborhoods stuck together. It was a beautiful Mediterranean city comprised of more than 15 religious sects, and they all hated each other at one time or another. Hand grenades went for about $15 a piece. An AK-47 assault rifle would cost anywhere between $50 to $100 depending on whether it was Romanian, Chinese, or original Russian.

At the age of 16, a young man is very impressionable. With movies like Rambo being a must-see at the time, owning firearms and dreaming of the perfect battle was something to look forward to. Nearly every kid wanted to be Sylvester Stallone.

The opposite influence, for me, was a teacher named Mr. Foss.

Robert Foss taught 10th grade English and American History. He was a man in his late 50s who seemed to wear the same short sleeve shirt and brown trousers every day, shoes always shining. He always had two pens tucked into his shirt pocket, along with his leather eyeglass case. I’m not sure if he knew it, but this American gentleman saved the lives of many young people in Beirut, including mine.

Mr. Foss always spoke to us. He was not about giving lectures and sending us off to the next class when the bell rang. He actually made time to chat with us about current affairs and what it meant to be responsible people in our society. He was the one who taught us and reminded us that there was a world out there beyond our warring environment. He gave us hope for a future without violence.

In 1986, there weren’t many American people left in Beirut. Mr. Foss was one of the very few who had remained after the continuous shelling, battles, car explosions, and kidnapping of American citizens. He stayed in defiance of the American Embassy’s strong recommendations to leave and in defiance of common sense. He said he was on a mission, not only educational, but social as well. He felt that he was saving young people from making stupid decisions.

I have so much gratitude for dear Mr. Foss. I want to thank him for keeping me from ending up a dead version of Rambo. I want to thank him for reminding my friends and I every school day that drugs weren’t the cool thing to do. I want to tell him how much I appreciate the numerous funny stories he would share with us about growing up in his native state of Vermont, stories that are still vivid in my mind after all these years of how he used to struggle in snow during those freezing winters.

I want to apologize for adding an apostrophe and an “S” to the book title Moby Dick that he’d written on the blackboard. I want to say sorry for the black ink-filled balloon that my friends threw at him. Most of all, I want to express how his kind words and wisdom helped shape me into a better man.

If there ever was such a thing as a beautiful man, it was Mr. Foss. He was the second father to everyone. He showed us that the strength of the mind and pen is mightier than that of the machine gun. He put himself in harm’s way to keep us from harmful decisions. Most of all, this man from Vermont taught us that education has no borders.

Thank you, Mr. Foss.