Humiliation. That seems to be a constant theme of my life. Things like going to school with a horrendous haircut and tripping over a jump rope in front of my entire gym class make me believe that humiliation and I are like scorned ex-lovers, except we never got along to begin with. Nothing echoes this idea more than my time at the Farrington Elementary School Geography Bee.
I was in fifth grade, and the school was taking part in a nationwide geography bee (kind of like a spelling bee, except with, you know, geography). My school didn’t even have a geography class. I was one of the six finalists at my school, and two of us would advance to the city wide bee, then the statewide, and then the national. The only reason I had made it this far was because I knew that Montreal was in Canada. Again, my school didn’t have a geography class, so my school’s standards of a geography whiz were pretty low.
I remember refusing to participate in the days leading up to the event. I have a stutter and was mortified of the idea of being laughed at by the entire school. But, despite my stubbornness, my teachers pressured me into doing it. Ironic since they’re the ones always telling us not to give into peer pressure. I entered the gymnasium one Friday afternoon as the smell of prepubescent sweat and whatever chemicals are used to clean the hardwood floors attack my nose. Me and the other students in the geography bee entered, all of them just climbing up on the three-and-a-half-foot stage like pros. But I had (and still do) short and stubby legs, so I had to be the one kid that walked all the way to the other side of the stage, go up the stairs while everyone watched me basically admit my defeat. Off to a great start.
We all sat in our cold, hard folding chairs, looking out at the sea of bored students and parents. The moderator, with a slender build, short gray hair and a disapproving pout, walked to her podium. I could barely hear a word she said, as my ears had been drowning in fear as I looked out upon the sea of judging faces. Fortunately, my teachers promised that we could write out our answers and have the moderator read them. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t spare me of embarrassment. Before I knew it, it was time to answer the first question. “What is the capital of Idaho?”, the moderator asked. How am I supposed to know the capital of Idaho? No offense to people from Idaho, but I don’t think they even care what the capital of Idaho is. I think they grow potatoes, and that is the extent of my knowledge of Idaho. That would be merely the first wrong answer of the travesty that was that event.
After the one and a half hour long nightmare ended, I walked to the car with my dad, tail between my legs. “I’m so proud of how smart you are!”, he assured me.
“Oh...uh...thanks”, I would reply, appreciating the gesture but not agreeing with the sentiment. I looked like an idiot. Sure, a few other participants got all of the questions wrong as well, and the winners had only won because they got a few right, but I still felt like the dumbest kid in school. It’s not that I cared about winning, or even thought that I had the slightest chance of winning, for that matter. The problem was the fact that I didn’t even get one moment, not even one second, to take pride in myself. In front of the entire school I made a mockery of myself. And after the weekend was over, I would have to go back to school, and would surely be ridiculed for my failures.
The weekend felt as if it went by faster than the geography bee did. I entered the building that Monday morning, preparing for the worst day of my life. I was sure of it. But something strange happened: nothing. Not a single thing. I had been greeted with the same smiles, same “hellos”. Barely anyone mentioned the Bee, and when they did, it was congratulatory. People were impressed that I was even in it. That’s when it hit me like a semi-truck. The “humiliating” moments that make you feel like crawling into your own grave, don’t matter. I was humiliated, and no one even noticed. I realized that mistakes are not a big deal, and other’s opinions of you are even less of a deal. Life is too short to focus on every minor mishap. So, do I still regret taking part in the geography bee? Absolutely not. But would I ever take part in something like that again? Absolutely not.