When I woke up this morning, the familiar feeling of pre-exam dread filled every sleepy cell in my body (though it wasn’t quite enough to jolt me awake—even as a morning person, I felt far more tortured than exhilarated by my 6:00 alarm).
Luckily, I had packed my school bag the night before, ensuring that my morning would be as painless as possible: keys, wallet, textbook, flashcards, pleasure-reading book (an after-exam treat, to read under a nice, leafy tree), and five black ballpoint pens (just in case, you know, four of them stop working).
I planned to arrive at my exam appointment an hour early so that I would have a comfortable cushion of time for a little unexpected traffic and a little last-minute review. Much to my disappointment, only minutes after backing out of the driveway, I encountered much more than “a little unexpected traffic.” It was, to state it clearly, the messy, tangled, slow globs of cars that just can’t seem to go already, the light is green, for goodness sake! And so, what usually takes a few minutes of driving and walking time slowly percolated—twenty minutes, forty minutes, an hour later, I was pulling into the parking lot. By the time I found a space, I had only a few precious minutes in which to trek a mile, so I set off at a speed walk that would undeniably make the snowy-haired ladies in my neighborhood very, very jealous.
With my extra hour of review time eaten up by the excess of cars and red lights and vindictive crossing guards (the latter of which made me stop at a crosswalk for five very protracted minutes as the entire teenaged population sloooooowly sauntered across the street), I had no choice but to leave my textbook in the car and review past perfect subjunctive conjugations in my head en route to my exam.
Once at my proctoring appointment, I pulled out my five black pens, ready to take on the world (more or less), only to find out that the CD-ROM that my professor sent in the mail was faulty; she would have to send a new one, and I would have to reschedule, but have a nice day. And so, back into my pencil pouch went my five black ballpoint pens.
Upon exiting the building, my (now incredibly short) hair flew every which-way, as the wind picked up in the way it only can during the springtime. So, no reading my book under a nice, leafy tree.
I also tripped sometime after this escapade. A very visible trip. In front of many people.
Analytic as I am, I immediately started dissecting my day. Where did it go wrong? What was the exact point where things turned sour? How could I have better prepared? Should I have left two hours early instead of one? Called my professor three weeks ago to ensure she sent the correct exam disc? Brought six black ballpoint pens pens instead of five?
As the options got more and more ridiculous, I realized that the root of the problem was my fierce insistence that I should be able to control every aspect of my day.
But today illustrated that I have to have some level of dependence on other people—my professor, the proctor, that dictatorial crossing guard—and no number of extra black ballpoint pens can equip me for the unexpected.
No extra cushion of time can 100% guarantee that I’ll have ample time to get to where I need to go. And not all days are suited for reading beneath trees (the sad, sad truth). Certainly, it’s helpful to plan ahead, for had I not left an hour early, I would have been an hour late. These kinds of precautions help, like bringing a sweatshirt in case the fog rolls in, but they ultimately aren’t our safeguards or talismans against traffic or accidents or cancelations.
Today also made me realize that every person you or I encounter during the day functions as a domino in a lengthy line—someone’s actions affected someone else, and now that person’s actions are affecting you. So who, in turn, will your actions affect? How will you affect them? I made the decision while standing in the proctoring office, empty handed (and a little sweaty from my gnarly speed walk), to handle the situation with flexibility and poise and a whole lot of grace. And though I did a bit of healthy venting to my mom later that day, I sincerely think that my conscious (albeit reluctant) decision to handle my circumstances with a light heart and an open mind actually served to convince me that the day wasn’t so bad after all (except for the part when I tripped... I’m still kind of blushing about that).