Blue Books

I recall an exam in college where I answered the wrong question. In the days that predated multiple choice bubble-in, examinations were written long hand in blue books.


For an hour, I wrote out my response for the exam except I was answering the wrong question. I misread the question and off I went like an eager powerhouse answering the wrong question. My professor didn’t fail me. I think it was out of sheer compassion for the effort I made and the quality of my writing (and thinking) even if it was about the wrong thing. The professors even let me take a partial make up exam. I didn’t get the highest grade but I was allowed to redeem myself and prove I was knowledgeable about the course’s subject matter. It also revealed to the professor how committed I was to the endeavor and to his class specifically. He knew I was a serious student.

But….I felt humiliated and stupid. The flush of embarrassment in my face sitting in class when he handed back the blue books remains poignant. How do you get it so wrong from the very beginning? Who fails to READ the question? Ever since that exam, I learned to rewrite the question. I verify what I am being asked. I hesitate to jump in with such eagerness lest I be horribly misguided. Even on multiple choice exams, I will rewrite questions, breaking down the sentences to confirm everything.

I need to learn this same lesson with regards to people. Sometimes, I think I know what is being asked of me. I am so eager, so sure of myself. I am eager to please and prove myself. And off I go giving my answer, my response. Except, from the first step out of the door, I am wrong footed. I am addressing the wrong issue. I fail all over again and that same hot embarrassment cloaks me.

And people seem far less forgiving, far less compassionate that I misunderstood the question. And I kick myself for not verifying what is being asked. It just seems silly and maybe conveys insecurity if I ask for someone to repeat what it is they want from me. But…the minute I make an assumption as to what is being asked of me…I risk getting it totally wrong. Horribly wrong.

There seem to be no “Do Overs” in relationships. Maybe this is the politics of relationship and has far less to do with a concise answer. Maybe it is all the past answers that others have given us that taint the space and make it harder to permit a “Do Over”. We expect to get the same answer or just a pitifully poor answer….we expect to be disappointed…we expect people to make a poor effort. We’re disappointed easily.

But relationships are not tests, they are not 60-minute exam blocks. They are not objective, quantifiable spaces. And our past experiences influence the dynamic. None of this changes my intense desire to give a better answer, to be heard, to convey what I really meant….to make the ‘professor’ know how serious I am about the endeavor.

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