The Hare and The Tortoise

      Remember the story about the race between the tortoise and the hare?  The hare, overconfident in his ability to outrun the tortoise, never took the race seriously and took more naps than he ran laps, while the tortoise, aware that he had to work harder to make up for his limitations, plodded along slowly but surely towards the finish line, proving that hard work and sheer determination more often than not will triumph over natural talent, especially if the latter is mixed with laziness and arrogance.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  This is my story.

      I don’t know how and when I first learned how to read, but from that instant I learned my ABC’s, I fell in love with words.  I loved the way they rolled around my tongue. I loved the images they evoked.  I loved the emotions they aroused.  

      I remembered my first day in Kindergarten.  The teacher had propped up this giant book in front of the entire class. She asked for volunteers to read it out loud.  I raised my hand and she called me. 

      “See Spot.  See Spot run.”  It was simple enough, right?  

      When I finished one page, I sat down and let the others take their turn.  I was surprised to hear some of my classmates stumbling over the words and the others reading in a monotone.  A few could not even read at all.  What came easy to me did not come as easily to the rest, I guess. It did not come as a surprise to me then that every semester, I got “Best in Reading” and “Best in Spelling” awards.  I also aced all my tests without even having to study for them.  I wasn’t even surprised that I did.  It was just one of those things that I took for granted.

      First grade lays the foundation for good study habits and the value of hard work.  I learned none of that.  I developed a habit of going through all my textbooks during the first few weeks of school and then never opening them again except under gunpoint.  I never took down notes because I figured that if I hadn’t committed all those lessons to memory, then I didn’t learn them at all.  I also convinced myself that studying was a form of cheating.  It defeated the purpose of tests, because tests to me should be an evaluation of what you actually retained instead of what you remembered from feverish cramming sessions.  Homework was another scheme grown-ups concocted to reduce your playtime and TV viewing, so it was simply ignored and hastily done in school the next day.  I even had a system.  The homework for the first subject was hurriedly scribbled a few minutes before the start of classes.  The one for the next subject was done under the teacher’s nose while pretending to be taking down notes, and so on and so forth.  I raised my hand every now and then to appease the teacher, but my primary preoccupation was daydreaming and people-watching.  My best-kept secret was that this angel was a little devil who went to school for its entertainment value and whose favorite subject was actually recess.  Hallmarks of a juvenile delinquent, you say?  Unfortunately, this bad behavior not only went unpunished, it also got rewarded.  I was consistently #1 in all my classes!

      In retrospect, maybe this self-defeating attitude could have been nipped in the bud if I got failing grades or had a teacher that cracked the whip.  Having none, my “bad-itude” flourished like a weed on Miracle-Gro.  

      By the time I was in high school and college, there was too much information for me to just retain without studying and too many reports and projects for me to fake without doing research, but years of non-existent study habits and disdain towards hard work were hard to shake off.  If I had eaten a piece of humble pie at the onset, then I would have maybe woken up to the fact that I was no better than anyone else.  Like everyone else, I needed to listen to the teacher, take down notes, study for tests and do my homework at home.  Plain and simple.  But then I’m getting ahead of my story…

      What can I say?  Fortune continued to smile on me during second and third grade by dropping first honor medals on my undeserving lap.  By fourth grade, though, she wasn’t as generous.  My medals began to include silver instead of the usual gold.  Still not bad, considering the effort I had put in, which was virtually nil.  By fifth grade, though, it was becoming obvious to me that I had fallen out of favor with fortune.  Medals were beginning to be hard to come by.  My descent into mediocrity and obscurity had slowly started.  By the time I graduated from elementary, my status had plunged from golden girl to just one of the “honorable mentions”.  I did not even make it to the Top 3.  Anyone else would have taken this as a wake-up call.  Not me.  Defiant to the end, I watched my other three classmates march onstage to receive their medals.  In the back of my mind, I’m thinking “If I wanted it bad enough, it would have been me up there onstage. Lucky for you that I don’t care.” Boastful and arrogant?  You bet, but while I sat at the sidelines empty-handed, the diligent students harvested the fruit of their labor.

      High school seemed to hold a lot of promise.  Brand new school, brand new start.  I resolved to be a brand new person, too.  I was going to study, do my homework and listen in class.  Like most resolutions, they were soon discarded like yesterday’s papers.  Slave to bad habits that I was, inattention and indifference eventually weakened my determination.  Daydreaming, non-participation and sloppy work soon became my trademark in high school as they had been in grade school.  

      Because my grades were so much lower than my IQ, our student counselor even called me in the office and questioned my underachievement.  While others would have taken this as a challenge to do better, I took a perverse sense of satisfaction in it.  It reaffirmed my smug belief that I could be in the honor roll if I wanted to; I just didn’t care enough.  

      For someone who scored among the top in pop quizzes and other exams, I was never an honor student because my grades in homework and research always pulled me down.  For someone who was in the editorial staff of her school paper, I could never meet deadlines.  The only reason they didn’t drop me was that my English teachers usually submitted my schoolwork to the paper for publishing.  For someone whose grades were consistently high in her favorite subjects, there was also a corresponding number of dismal performances in others.  For someone whose classmates dubbed as “The Walking Dictionary”, I could not see that by now I was the walking definition of a time bomb.  Tick-tock.  Tick-tock.

      My social life was not much better either.  During freshman year I got invited to the coolest parties by the coolest people.  Rich kids living in fancy homes in Beverly Hills (yes, my town had its own Beverly Hills) held the hippest happenings at the drop of a hat.  This would have been a dream come true for most people.  It had the opposite effect on me.  

      I thought money would free people from having to listen to others telling them how to act, how to dress and how to think, but there they were, slaves to fashion, gossip and the herd mentality.  Besides, all this preening and posturing wearied me.  I have never been much of a social butterfly.  I could never muster enough energy to kiss and hug people I don’t care for.  

      Gradually, I stopped going to these parties.  Slowly, I stepped out of that coveted inner circle.  Little by little, I had become a social nobody.  

      No regrets.  I was happier spending the day with a friend than feeling trapped and alone in a zoo of party animals.  By this time, too, I was also finding books more interesting than people.  I read paperbacks, hardbound classics, dictionaries, smut— anything I could lay my hands on.  The problem was, I read books in class, too.   

      I did not even bother to listen to the day’s lessons anymore since none of my teachers reprimanded me anyway.  I just got my comeuppance every Midterm and Finals because by now some of my grades were in unfamiliar red ink.  I was failing some classes!  

      I hid the problem by forging my parent’s signature on my report cards.   I was filled with dread and despair but maintained my usual air of indifference.  I was in a downward spiral and nobody could hear me scream on my way down.

      High school graduation…  Nobody around me really knew that I barely managed to make it up on stage to receive my diploma, the reason being that although my grades were high in most subjects, I was failing in some, notably Math.  I had to take a remedial test in Math and pass it, or face summer class with no graduation ceremony.  How low had the mighty fallen!  

      The sad thing about it was I was still in a state of semi-denial.  I knew there was a problem, but brains and luck had always bailed me out.  Hard work was never part of the equation.  In its stead was arrogance with a capital A. 

      So what course should a high school graduate with failing grades in Math and Science take up in college?  Definitely not Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology with all its Chemistry and Math subjects…  

      Yet, that’s exactly the course I took.  Not because I wanted to sweat it out in a lab analyzing urine and blood samples, but because I was told that was the best pre-med course to take.  

      Don’t get me wrong.  I never had any burning desire to be a doctor.  If I had my way, I’d be a best-selling author and a Professor in Literature with a few handpicked students.  However, I know how fickle the Muse can be and I was not sure of her ability to bring food to the table.  Also, as a kid, it seemed like I had so much promise, and becoming a doctor did not seem so far-fetched.  Hence, my choice to be a doctor. 

      Alas, taking the Hippocratic Oath took a lot longer than I thought.  There were too many equations to balance, too many values to memorize, too many numbers to juggle … 

      They were all just facts and figures that did not touch a chord in me.  Even my Literature subjects could not save me.  Under the wrong hands, Literature had as much drama and excitement as the weather report.  

     It wasn’t that I was starting to hate this school.  I just had the utmost apathy for it.  I hadn’t failed any classes yet, but since serious studying was not part of my vocabulary, retention of any material taught was at a panic low.  Wouldn’t it be scary for a doctor like that to operate on you?  

      My self-esteem at this point was inversely proportional to my level of despair.  I was too proud to admit that I really needed to buckle down to study.  I was also way past the point of even caring.  I maintained a guise of normalcy, but felt like a doomed man with the noose tightening around my neck.  I was a college dropout waiting to happen.  I needed some drastic intervention fast.  Help came unexpectedly from the most inauspicious of events.

      In the first semester of my second year as a Med Tech student in Velez College, I got pregnant.  

      Under ordinary circumstances, this would have been the deathblow to the privileged life.  After having betrayed their trust and brought shame to our family, my parents could easily have turned their back on me.  They could have just left me to fend for myself.  I could have been a frumpy housewife with a passel of hungry brats, waiting for hubby to come home, amazing people with my occasional correct answers to Jeopardy.  I could have been the once promising but now ne’er-do-good sister waiting for dole-outs from her siblings.  I could have been a lot of unsavory other things, all befitting my lack of education and effort.  Lucky for me, these were extraordinary circumstances, because in my moment of need, I found I had an extraordinary family.

      In my moment of need, my family rallied around me.  My Kuya Gari, who was the last person I thought whom I could count on in matters of the heart, confronted my then-boyfriend’s family and straightened things out.  My sister Marichu provided a shoulder to cry on and an arm to hold onto.  My Mom, after the initial shock, was supportive and nonjudgmental, setting the tone for others to follow.  My Dad, in his own quiet way, was also there for me.  Yet the one who saved me from scholastic demise was my eldest sister, Achi Joy.  She was the one who pointed out to me that it was going to be difficult to continue my pre-med course with a young family to take care of and grades to maintain, not to mention the expense involved.  She suggested nursing to me, pointing out that if all goes well, I could still be a doctor if I wanted to.  It was one of the best piece of advice I ever had.

      Cebu State College- College of Nursing was a lifesaver.  It turned my life around.    Gone was the lost student just going through the motions.  In its stead was an eager pupil who found relevance in her Nursing subjects.  

      College life here was vastly different from the one I had previously known.  The classes were smaller and less impersonal.  The camaraderie among students and faculty alike was evident.  My teachers were endearing in spite or was it because of their little idiosyncrasies.  Dr. Balili as the Dean did an impressive job of keeping the college of nursing a force to reckon with in the campus.  Dr. Ragay despite her low voice managed to impart a lot of knowledge to us.  Mrs. Montebon was like a mother hen, clucking around her chicks to keep them in check.  Mrs. Silva was a very competent yet strict teacher who taught us not only to be efficient nurses but ethical people as well.  Mrs. Caballero was an inspiration to her students.   

      I loved all my teachers, but the one I loved the most was Dr. Marlon Lopez.  He was an amazing teacher who was a veritable fountain of knowledge.  He tackled his material with ease and applied it to everyday life.  He also had an affinity to his students that was genuine.  For him I would disrupt my afternoon siesta just to make it to his class.  I relished nothing more than his daily pop quizzes and his essay questions.  At last, school had become fun again.

      Not only was I doing well academically, I, the social recluse, was becoming active in extra-curricular activities as well.  

      During my freshman year, I was pleasantly surprised to be asked to run for a position in the Student Council by no less than the guy running for President.  I accepted and was elected, and was re-elected time and again in the years to come.  I also rekindled an old love- writing- and under the tutelage of yet another brilliant professor and compassionate human being, Dr. Romola Savellon, had one of my most prolific and creative periods as a staff writer of our school paper.  Things were finally looking up for me.  Not bad for a teenage mom who was on the fast track to Loser’s Lane!

    I am lucky to have learned my lesson in time.  Yes, raw talent might give you a head start in life, but hard work will get you to the finish line.  I see tortoises around me well on their way towards their goals while the hares are lolling around and taking their own sweet time.  I was left far behind, sidetracked and left in the dust, but this hare is still grateful for its second chance.  I may never be a frontrunner now in this race, but I will do my best to make the journey worthwhile. 

      As a parting shot, let me share with you this beautiful saying:

       Dance like no one is watching,

        love as though you have never hurt before,

      sing as though no one can hear you,

      and live as though heaven is on earth. 

      May this mantra guide you in the years to come…

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