Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Full Speed Ahead

"Character develops itself in the stream of life."
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

When I was fifteen I came to an English class a few minutes early and overheard, to my horror, fellow students discussing The Essay. They were debating the essay I had not given a single thought to.
I vaguely recalled that our teacher had mentioned it the previous week; she had given us ample time to complete the assignment and in that particular class no excuses were accepted. I froze for just a moment, and then set to work just as the bell rang. Our teacher, normally on time, was not present yet and I thought that if I worked very quickly I might be able to add a line or two during the class as she spoke, and present it, completed, at the end.
The essay was to be two pages in length, and on the subject of strength of character as it related to a novel we were studying.
As I wrote furiously, words spilling from my mind and pen, and mouth too as I spoke the tumbling words aloud, I noticed that a small group had gathered around me. I paid almost no attention to the onlookers; I was torn between constructing an essay to save my skin and keeping an eye on the classroom door for the same purpose.
The students were watching me with interest. Once they understood my plan, I idly overheard a few say that I would never make it; there was no time; our teacher was going to kill me.
I wrote with a walloping, frantic surge. I was breathless, hardly stopping to think about the words.
All that mattered was to get an essay down on paper, and ensure that it connected loosely with the subject. If our teacher determined that it was not worthy, it still would be a better outcome than if I supplied no work at all. I had an audience of many. None imagined that I would succeed in my endeavour.
Two minutes passed. and then three. Our teacher was five minutes late, and then six. I could hardly believe my good fortune and her uncommon lack of punctuality had combined in such a way as to possibly further my odds of surviving the class.
Finally, ten minutes later than usual, our teacher walked in and, unusually, demanded our papers immediately. I was perfectly fine with that for I had completed the given task and had, to my own surprise, written two pages. I scarcely knew myself what I had put down on paper. I do remember the looks on the faces of those who knew my secret and why my face was flushed as I, trembling, passed my work to the front of the classroom. I believe I came close to fainting that morning and I sat through the remainder of the class in a sort of numb, foggy daze.
On the following day we all waited anxiously to hear news of how our essays had fared. At the very least I had completed mine, thought I with no shortage of sweet relief. Our teacher held an essay in her hand and informed the entire class that she was about to select and read one particular essay. With a shock, I recognised the manic, erratic handwriting that swept across the facing page. My heart sank like a great lump of stone. Being singled out by that teacher meant only disaster.
Transfixed and in silence, all of us in that classroom listened as our teacher read out what she considered to be the best essay. She admonished the rest of the class for not being up to standard. She mused that I surely must have put a lot of work and thought into the material. Those were her words. She said many fine things about my writing. I could feel every eye lingering on me, certain that every mouth was agape and that I could finally confirm what I had always suspected: in a classroom, the teacher's wrath is not the only thing to be avoided at all costs.
The central theme of the essay was character, and the proof that one ought never to give up. As regards such traits, I am convinced that we learn as we go. Sometimes that happens day by day, and sometimes, word by word.

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