It was another normal day for me, but I couldn’t say the same for the rest of my classmates. At the end of the academic year, after a horrendous exam period of two weeks- during which you feel hopelessly inadequate and question your value as a human being- a list of names is pinned to a prominent noticeboard one floor below the Dean’s office. This famous (infamous) list is what people who have mostly given up large parts of their lives in their pursuit to be doctors live for. A frantic search for your registration number and name ensues, and either of two things happen: you feel elated, powerful, vindicated or you feel the ground beneath your feet shifting. A quick visit to the Dean’s office will reveal your fate: repeat the year, or sit for a supplementary exam four to six weeks later. What was a normal day for me was day 1 after this list had been pinned to the noticeboard, marking the end of our third year of study.
I have been in this position before, standing in between the ‘living’ and the ‘dead’, not really sure of my fate. It has led to some immense soul searching, and I have come to know so many things about how the world works. Not knowing whether you’re progressing to the next year or not is an emotional roller coaster that I would never wish on anyone else. I wager that it is better to know your fate early on, rather than having to drag out the torture over a long period of time. However, not being able to sit for the end of year exams on two occasions now has never been in my control, so the only thing I can do is sit on the wall and watch the events happening on either side.
Most of those who have spotted their names in the shiny, black ink of the school printer on the shockingly white printing papers on the noticeboard will, as soon as time permits, loudly proclaim their success on social media, proclaiming the wonderful faithfulness of The Lord, thanking Him for his providence. They will go ahead to say how hard the year was, how they thought they’d never make it, how they’re grateful for the loving support systems that they are privileged to have. Some will then go ahead to share their wonderful holiday plans. These posts will undoubtedly attract a lot of attention and likes, mostly from immediate friends and fellow classmates who have been ‘chosen’. There are a few who do not believe in sharing everything about their lives online, and these will keep quiet, a calm smile here and there, a few texts and calls to close friends and that will be all. Others will be so busy with surviving life that they will not bother at all with updating their Whatsapp statuses to reflect their glory and victory on the battlefield.
As all this is happening, there will be someone on the other side of the wall, flustered, tense or resigned to their fate (those who knew things were not going to turn out well). A cold sweat will break out on their faces as they climb each stair to the Dean’s office, hoping that a mistake has been made, hoping that if things are bad, they won’t be thaaat baad. Some wishes will come true. Some will not. Not many in this group will praise The Lord for being faithful. Not many will walk out with their heads held up high, proudly carrying their letters authorizing them to sit for supplementary exams four weeks later. I wager that none of them will change their Whatsapp statuses. Instead, they will huddle together with those who have shared a similar fate, give each other strength and prepare for the tough road ahead. Their emotions will run the entire gamut from happy to depressed over the course of the next few days. And then they will come out on top, having a deeper understanding of human suffering (or not. Some never learn).
They will learn TRUE empathy with the patients that we will encounter at some point in our careers, for only someone who has suffered can be able to relate to the sufferings of a fellow human being. When their names appear on the list the next academic year, these people will not thump their chests in public, but will rather go and seek the Lord’s face in the privacy of their bedrooms, thanking Him for sparing them another trip through hell.
I am not begrudging the success of others. Neither am I refusing them their right to celebrate in the best way that they know. In fact, I am very happy for them, for they will not have to question their place in the world. They will not have to meet their deepest fears in the flesh and do battle with them, at least not now. As much as this is important and necessary in the life of every human being on the surface of this earth, I’d rather be lucky all the time than have to lie on this bed of painful thorns.
However, the words of one of our high school’s songs give me (and should give you as well) hope in what lies ahead : “God gives us duty for us to discharge it, problems to face, struggle with and overcome. Service to render and glory covet, twenty and thirty and forty years on”.
I am sure of two things: Everyone will have to know what is on both sides of the wall. And there will always be a watcher on the wall, insulated, keenly observing, watching and learning.