I had a sudden burst of inspiration this morning while walking to my ObliCon class. Here’s how it goes…
A young man was in his last year in high school, and was trying to get in his dream school – Yale. Of course, he needed to impress them. So he took the SATs and voilà, he got a high score.
But to him it wasn’t enough. The Universities also looked at high school grades, he heard.
“I need to march with honors from high school!” he told himself. Unfortunately, he believed that no matter how hard he tried, he could never really seem to match his friends whose grades were perpetually flying in the big blue sky. He wished to know their secrets, and how they could balance so efficiently their academics with social lives and club work.
“What secret?” his friends would say whenever he asked them. “There aren’t any.”
But the dude wouldn’t just accept that. There HAD to be a secret, just as it was said that laughter was the key to good health. What would make him a very good student with sky-high grades and, more importantly, the capability to actually retain and use what he had learned for the future?
One day, he was very depressed as he made his way to the school’s quiet little Zen rock garden, his boots shuffling noisily across the sand. He had just nearly failed an examination, and was worried his grades would be compromised. The school was very strict about the honor roll – one would not march with honors if for even one grading period, he or she did not have an award. In desperation, he threw himself on a rock and wept.
As he lay there, shedding tears, he thought he felt a strange presence around him. Looking up, he saw a faint glow, a light that materialized into the form of a fairy.
She was very beautiful, this fairy. About the young man’s height, possibly just a little shorter, the fairy forced the world ethereal into his mind. She definitely did not look of this world, yet there was a certain aura about her that made her very human-like as well.
“I have seen what you believe are your sorrows,” she said. “But I would like to hear it from your mouth. Tell me, handsome young man. What is it that you despair about?”
The young man couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Probably he felt it was a hallucination from his state of agony, so he tried shaking his head vigorously and shutting and opening his eyes carefully. But the being was still there.
“Tell me,” she repeated in a musical voice.
“Why is it that whatever the effort I put into studying, I can never achieve what -” he gave the names of his constant-honor-roll friends -“achieve? Why does it seem like second nature for them but it takes me the strength of ten Herculeses to achieve that even just once?”
The fairy smiled and sat down on a rock adjacent to him. She bade him wipe his tears and sit down properly.
“All right, my dear. We shall get to work. I’ll see you at home.”
After he had killed the engine of his car, the young man nearly received a heart attack when he found the fairy opening his car door for him. “Hello,” she said, smiling widely. “Get your bag and go to your room now.”
“But… I’d like some snacks first, please,” he objected.
The fairy sighed and looked at him in a sorry manner. “Very well,” she said. “But make it quick.”
After grabbing a bowl of cereal and some juice, the boy was now opening his books at the direction of the fairy. She instructed him what to do, and if he showed the slightest sign of objection she wouldn’t stop nagging him until she was satisfied.
“Are you finished with your Calculus homework yet?”
“Are you sure?”
“Check your paper again.”
Irritated, the boy brushed through his paper. There it was: one unanswered item. He caught sight of the fairy looking at him in a very patronizing manner.
“Finished, are we?”
“Fine…” the boy grumbled, and set to work on answering the item on differentiation.
And so it went like this for the weeks to come. No one knew about the fairy’s presence except for the boy, who was beginning to think along the lines of “beautiful bitch”. When he was in the bathroom for his morning rituals, the fairy would be there despite his protests that he had the right to his own privacy, and would place a book or notebook in his hands while he sat on the toilet. When he ate breakfast, the fairy would either feed him while making him turn the pages of his readings, or the other way around. During break times, he spent only little time with his friends; his unearthly companion would compel him to go to the library and study there.
“When will you stop, and when did I even ask you to help me this way? I only wanted to know why,” the boy snapped one day as he was reviewing for a psychology test.
“What I’m making you do is my answer to your question,” the fairy said without looking up from the paperback novel she was reading. It belonged to the boy; the fairy had an unusual affinity for them. “And go on – what is the concept that Pavlov used on his dogs?”
Sigh. “Classical conditioning.”
“And what are the three parts of the mind as theorized by Freud?”
“The ego, the superego, and the id.”
“Very good!” she said enthusiastically. “Last time you missed one.”
It became their daily routine – study, bathroom, study, eat, study, drive to school, study, study, study, go home, study, eat, study, sleep. The fairy did give allowances for the boy to do his other school work (he was active in clubs and committees) and go out with family and friends, but not all the time.
Whenever the boy became cranky or complained, his mega tutor gave him additional work to do. She would not release him until he had finished his assignments and reviewed his lessons, especially those that he had just taken up or had an exam on approaching.
“Re-reading things you learned in class within the first twenty-four hours will greatly help when you review for your exams,” she reminded him as he laced up his boots and straightened his jacket to ready himself for an exam in calculus that day. “Good luck and don’t forget your theorems and formulas!”
She is becoming a real pest, the boy thought to himself as he revved the engine away from the house. The faster I get away from here, the better. Of course, he always forgot that the fairy would be sitting in the back of his minivan, invisible. She apparently possessed the ability to read his thoughts, because she would sometimes nearly cause him to crash by reacting sarcastically to his thoughts about her.
And then came March. The final examinations had just been finished, and the seniors were free for two whole weeks before their ceremonies. And then a week into the break…
“Mrs. San Tomas, congratulations.” It was a phone call from the boy’s school. “Your son has been ordained batch valedictorian and has been awarded the school’s highest award…”
His mother shrieked for joy.
“…you to please come up on stage upon your son’s name being called, obtain the medals from our school’s President, and bestow it upon your son. Then stand back and smile for pictures.”
The school then requested to talk to him, and his mother very warmly gave it to him. He was asked to write the valedictory address and an acceptance speech for his award. But since he felt that the two were interconnected, he asked if he could create just one thing for both. The Principal accepted.
And so on graduation day, Mrs. San Tomas was the proudest parent in the academy. Seats had been reserved for her and their family, and even the boy’s favorite cousins accompanied Mrs. San Tomas on stage to slide the medal on their black-robed son’s neck.
When the time came for him to deliver his address, he became a little more honest about how he had risen up so fast and maintained his grades and learning. In his address, he wrote about a boy who was struggling to realize the value of learning, and was guided by a fairy on the way to enlightenment. It was then that he realized what he had been doing wrong until recently – he did not love what he was doing. And because he did not genuinely enjoy it, he was in fact not giving his all to it in spite of his beliefs.
As he stepped down the stage to go back to his seat, he found the fairy in front of him, invisible to all but him, smiling widely like before, but this time warmly and proudly.
“Congratulations. Now you know what it takes,” she said.