Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Guilt Trip

"We must make the world honest before we can honestly say to our children that honesty is the best policy."
-George Bernard Shaw

I was the quiet, docile one in all of my classes at school. I was sensible, I excelled in writing and I never put a foot wrong. Until a certain week in which we students were given an ordinary, routine assignment.
On Monday at the end of class our teacher would routinely give us the topic; on Tuesday morning before the bell rang she would ask a student to collect our work; on Wednesday morning just before end of class she would hand back our work courtesy of the student, and speak accordingly to those who had or had not completed the work.
She was very sweet and softhearted and any dissatisfied words from her afflicted the student in question with a large supply of guilt and misery on account of her tendency to be understanding about everything. If she was cross, it was justified.
So when I entered the classroom on a bright Tuesday morning, I had no fears. When I came to realise that I had forgotten all about the essay, I fell to pieces.
I hated to disappoint her and had to think quickly as the student came around to collect the homework. I shook my head at her meaningfully; she passed on. The student cared little about whether I had done the work or not.
I had made a decision. I would do the homework that very night, at about the time my teacher was discovering my work was absent, and offer it to her the next morning before she could say a word to me. It would be all right and things could be smoothed over.
The teacher was an understanding soul but I did not want to exploit that character trait I so admired. I was grateful to escape at the end of class on Tuesday and I vowed to do the work the minute I reached home.
I did not do it.
No excuses, no reasons, no homework-munching canines: I simply forgot about it once more. Perhaps I had grown complacent.
So when I came into class on Wednesday morning and remembered the whole matter, I did not fall to pieces as I had the day before. I sat at my desk, ominously calm, for the length of the class and attempted to establish what my options were.
I rapidly came to the conclusion that there was only one. It was shameless but it would work. The class was coming to an end at last and the chosen student began to pass the papers back to us. There were about ten minutes of class time left.
Once everybody had their papers in hand and the classroom fell silent in perusal of grades, I made my move.
Here I must confess the most awful part of the matter: the teacher, as well as being decent, honest and trusting and rather elderly, was also a nun. It is necessary to remember that I was but a young pupil, trying to learn the ways of the world and go about my business in the best way that I could.
Fluttering ever so slightly, I inched my way toward the front of the room where the teacher was discussing another student's work.
When she had finished I stepped up to her and in the most pleasant voice I had, said softly, "Sister-" and I am reluctant to recall that she was a nun- "Sister, I didn't get my essay back."
Her believing eyes opened wide.
"Oh, oh, let me see." She began to root around in her tattered briefcase for my paper. My throat was obstructed with a lump of some sort; possibly my last bit of decency was, in despair, saying farewell to my lying form and escaping for pastures honest.
After a good deal of searching, she then browsed the ceiling, the floor and her clothing. My paper was not there. She looked at me, devastated. She flapped her arms about a bit, patted herself down, gave up in misery.
"I'm sorry. I must have left it at home. I'll bring it back to you tomorrow. I'm very sorry."
I hurried out of the classroom. I had not presumed it to work so well and yet so miserably.
The following day, which was Thursday, my teacher came to me and apologised; she was extremely embarrassed but somehow, she said, my paper had become lost. She had not found it at her home.
"But don't worry," she said soothingly. "You always get an 'A'. Don't worry. I'll mark you down for an 'A' and it will be all right. I am sorry."
I felt I was a bit of dirt that even a worm would despise.
I went home that night and completed the essay, then crumpled up the paper, gave it the appearance of having sat in my bag for days, and presented it to my relieved teacher as the 'lost' paper for which I apologised for having mistakenly thought I had given her.
To make it worse, I did get my 'A' after all.


Beth said...

another good story from you--I do enjoy your writing very much. Don't you think our consciences are there to keep us from making a habit of bad behavior? I would hate to become calloused or immune to guilt.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

And I also like your blog very much- I've had regular-reading family members find your page through mine and say the same :)
And yes, I did learn from that experience. I could never forget it. No, we wouldn't want to become hardened to the world.
Goodness, this probably sounds odd but I feel rotten when I speed up in the supermarket toward the checkout line if somebody else is heading that way, because I think they might think I'm racing them to the checkout and being rude.
I do try to follow my conscience when I can.

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