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Grant Me the Serenity
“Oh I am so getting an A! I had a tutor, stayed up ‘til 2 am and got here early this morning,” exclaimed Maureen. “I’m unstoppable.”
Carmen just looked and smiled at her friend. Maureen was the type of friend that puts others down unintentionally, but her friends still loved her no matter what. She was a short girl, usually on the shy side, but as soon as someone mentioned anything relating to academics, she was all over it.
Another math test, Carmen sighed to herself. Carmen had been on a losing streak in geometry. Lately, she’d been receiving C’s and D’s, which were completely absurd grades, and ones she was not used to. Part of her wanted to feel jealousy towards Maureen. But the other part of her thought, What’s the point. Maureen may have been smarter than Carmen, but Carmen knew how it felt to hit rock bottom. Carmen used to be in Maureen’s place with all A’s and nothing to sweat, until tenth grade rolled around, and reality hit.
The bell rang. Bright pink sheets of paper and a calculator were on every student’s desk. Some of the less confident students had a page of notes, which was recommended by the teacher. Carmen only filled one and three fourths pages, but Maureen took up two sides without even room for a point.
Carmen skimmed the first pink page of the test. Not too bad. Once she began, she fought herself over every little detail. Because of all the second-guessing, she never really felt confident in her answers.
Maureen zipped through the first page, anxious to finish the test in time to complete the extra credit. She never had any doubts about what she calculated. To her, the answer was the answer simply because that was what she got. And how could she be wrong?
Carmen flipped to the second page and read the first problem. What? She thought. Did we even learn this?
Maureen got stuck on the first problem of the second page too. She vigorously searched her notes. All the words on her notes page suddenly turned into another language. It was impossible to find what was going on with this problem. She panicked and shot a glance at Mr. Peterson, the teacher. The large bald man sat there at his desk, working on crossword puzzles and Sudoku. Maureen was tempted to interrupt him, but asking him a question would be a sign of weakness. I can do this, she thought.
Carmen skipped the first problem and moved to the second, only to find the second more difficult than the first. Heat rose inside her and she felt quite confused. Numbers, letters, and shapes all started to dance across her page, challenging her to dare to solve them. Oh God. Skimming the rest of the page Carmen realized she didn’t know any of it. Part of her wanted to hand the test in with the last two pages blank. Why even bother trying? Another part of her wanted to storm out of the classroom and cry or run away forever (whichever was more likely). Yet another part of her wanted to swear at the teacher in an emotional outburst. How dare he give us this B.S.? Most of her however, though she had many parts, most of her wanted to fight through the test, which she saw as the most beneficial option.
Carmen yanked up her notes page. There’s gotta be something here. The back of the page was pretty empty with the exception of a circle diagram, a few ways to find angles and . . . What’s this? In crude handwriting there was a small paragraph that read:
God grant me the serenity ?
to accept the things I cannot change; ?
courage to change the things I can;?
and wisdom to know the difference.
Carmen knew it had to have been the handiwork of her little sister Chrissy, who was practicing her cursive on every paper she could get her hands on. Chrissy usually just copied whatever words were around her: in a book, online, on the wall. . . The wall. Carmen remembered that this nifty verse was on the kitchen wall, made out of knit fabric and written by Reinhold Niebuhr. So what does it mean?
Mr. Peterson cleared his throat. Maureen stared down at the page. Of course, she thought realizing how silly she had just been for not doing the problem quicker. The clock ticked and they had thirty minutes left. Plenty of time.
I’m screwed, thought Carmen as the clock wound down to twenty minutes remaining. Two pages left and not a clue on how to do them. She kept moving on skipping the ones she did not understand. She did make some progress, but too many had been skipped. She went back to the second page again. Hmm, really? This isn’t so bad.
Both Carmen and Maureen finished with Maureen going over the time and Carmen giving a guess to the ones she was not able to think through.
“He didn’t let me finish the extra credit!” whined Maureen with a look of distress on her face.
“At least you finished,” retorted Carmen who realized she did not double-check her answers, a task that was crucial for her on ALL tests. She didn’t realize how crucial until she got four squared wrong on an eighth grade Algebra I test. Who’d have thought that answering with eight would be so devastating?
The girls waited for last period to be over so they could run over to Mr. Peterson’s room and hear their results. Mr. Peterson always finished his grading at school, a smart move Carmen wished every teacher would do.
“Mr. Peterson! Mr. Peterson!” Maureen ran into his room a few seconds after the end-of-school bell rang. “Tell me the good news!”
Carmen stumbled in slowly behind her with less enthusiasm. More people emerged into the room and formed a line, waiting to hear their scores. Everyone knew that Maureen was always first, and they could gage whether they did well based on if she did well (which was more often than not).
With a blank expression, Mr. Peterson flipped out his grade book, as if our request was one we never had asked of him. His finger scrolled down the list to “Donem, Maureen” and in a level voice he said, “eighty one”.
Maureen was waiting for him to finish his sentence. Eighty-one cats? Eighty-one percent class average? Eighty-one plus nineteen?
He looked passed her. “Next?”
The people behind her started snickering. “If Maureen got an eighty-one then I got a fifty-one! Forget it! I’m out,” said one boy who wasn’t the smartest person, but wasn’t the dumbest either. Everyone in line laughed and started making other inane comments.
Maureen just stood there, mouth wide open. Carmen knew she was going to cry, but felt like Maureen needed this moment to be humbled.
Maureen stormed out of the room with some classmates slowly following her out. Why bother even checking their grades?
Carmen stood at Mr. Peterson’s desk, frozen and speechless. Without further delay, Mr. Peterson gave her the score. “Seventy-nine”.
Carmen glared at him, and she could tell he didn’t like people complaining about test grades from his long blank face. “Thank you,” she said and smiled, slightly confusing the stern teacher.
What is serenity? Is it sacrificing your selfish emotions for the benefit of gaining peace? Is it giving up every little worry to God, because He has a plan? Or is it admitting you’re not perfect and being completely satisfied with yourself? No dictionary or words can ever express the feeling of serenity, but Carmen knew she had it and she knew exactly where it came from.
Sure Maureen had the better score, a larger number on a piece of paper. But she didn’t have the wisdom to know to accept what she could not change. And between Carmen and Maureen, that was the difference.