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terror and desperation

July 2, 2010

I had studied well. I had covered all of the material. I had listened to the lecture. I had read the book.

And I had less than a 24-hour window to take the exam. I decided to log on in the early morning before I went to work. It was only twelve questions. How bad could it be? Really.

Really?!?! I remember distinctly the first emotion I felt upon viewing the exam questions. Terror. Sheer terror. There is no other word to describe it. I thought, What is this stuff??? Did I open the wrong exam??? Yes, surely that was it. I checked. No. This was the right exam.

Then I thought, Maybe I can close it and study some more and come back. But time was ticking and that would be cheating since it wasn’t supposed to be an open book exam. Then I thought, Here I am alone in this room and no one would know… Terror had dissolved into desperation. Sheer desperation. Then I heard a little sing-song voice, Character is… Yes, yes. I know. Character is what you do when nobody is looking. And then I cursed the day years before when I had first learned that phrase…and then taught it to unsuspecting school children.

No, I didn’t. I didn’t curse and I knew it was true. And I’m glad I taught it to those school children. It’s just that – well, as Al Gore would say – sometimes the truth is just inconvenient. Very, very, very inconvenient. And when you’re desperate you’ll do the strangest things.

I scrolled over the exam questions again, time still ticking away. I thought, It will be okay. I’ll just do my best. Then I thought, Your best?!?!?! You don’t have a chance. Do you even have a clue what these questions mean! You studied and APPARENTLY you still missed it. Somehow. Someway. You managed to.miss.it.

By that time I was screaming silently, about to start pulling my hair out and rending my garments. I wanted to crawl back into bed and die. I knew if I tried to answer the questions I would  fail miserably. I would go down in flames. I would be the only person on the face of the planet who had ever completely bombed a 12 question exam. My professor would read my answers and think, And she wants to be a journalist?????? Better go back and get your high school diploma first.

Yes, I could just imagine it. But then I picked myself up out of the ash heap and just started answering. There was nothing left to do. Slowly but surely answers came. Were they the right answers? Only Heaven knew. I sure didn’t. Okay. I was confident I had gotten close on a few, but when 12 questions are collectively worth 100 points, if I missed one I missed the boat. At least as far as my grade was concerned. And the terror began to return.

Looking back now I can laugh. I actually didn’t bomb the exam. Everything turned out okay. I survived with my character still intact. But when I received the following in an email this  morning, I remembered that day, that exam. And how much I could relate. After the terror had subsided and the desperation set in, I had thought, Please, Lord, just give me an answer. Any answer.  Just so I don’t leave it blank. I hoped that at least my professor would give me points for creativity.

And maybe she did. I guess I’ll never know.

And my personal favorite:

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