I got my grade back today: I got a 99/100 on my Islam test. I killed it. The only problem I missed was a question about the shortest Surah in the Qur’an, which was a goofy piece of trivia that our professor didn’t cover in class and I didn’t think to look up before the exam. I’m not too upset about it, frankly.
I also got my paper back in Political Theology. Background on this class: it’s really, really hard. I chose it because I need two 4000-level Systematic Theology classes to graduate, and the course description sounded incredibly interesting. I haven’t missed a minute of class time and I’ve read every word of the readings Dr. Radzins has assigned, but oh, good Lord, it is so thick and deep and complex. One week I was so frustrated with a passage that I took a picture and Tweeted it.
Another week we had to read Augustine’s The City of God almost in its entirety.
There are eleven students in the class, and while I follow as best I can, every week I feel like I do 100 units of listening and 5 units of understanding. I probably should have dropped it at the beginning of the semester and taken something more my speed, but I pride myself on NOT QUITTING. I figured eventually I’d understand.
Anyway, I got a C on my paper. Sure, a C is average. But I’ve never gotten a C on a paper in my entire educational career, all the way back to kindergarten. I’ve gotten Cs on tests, but papers are supposed to be the way that I best demonstrate what I know. Hell, I’m training to be an educator and I plan on assigning loads of papers, because students can really show me how much they’re learning. And the real pisser of it all is this: that paper is worth 40% of our grade in the class, and I have to get a B or better or it doesn’t go on my transcript. So either a) I have to take two more 4000-level Systematics classes next semester or b) I don’t graduate on time.
I freaked out the whole way home. Part of me is thinking Suck it up, Schleusener, this is GRADUATE school and it’s game time. The other part of me, the much louder part of me, is thinking You’re not cut out for this and you know it. You’ve been bullshitting yourself and everyone around you for 15 months and it’s time to fold. And part of that is true; I really, honestly don’t get this the way that my classmates do. I don’t have the background in it, which is a disadvantage in itself, but I didn’t exactly spent my summer break reading theology to make up for it.
When my grandpa was a teenager, in the span of just a few months, his big brother Dennis went to war and his father, my great-grandfather, deteriorated mentally to the point where he was basically committed to a mental institution. That left my grandpa, at, like, 16 years old to run the family farm in Oxford, Nebraska. He absorbed all of the duties of both his father and his older brother practically overnight, as a teenager, when his ability to cope with change of that magnitude wasn’t even close to developed. I think an equally impressive part of this story is that my great uncle Dennis wrote Grandpa letters from battle in the South Pacific, telling him what kind of equipment to buy, when to plant and harvest crops, how to manage the farm without him. It literally makes me cry to think of this. That level of responsibility – to each other, to their family – it just…I can’t even fathom it.
Grandpa and Dennis are what Tom Brokaw calls The Greatest Generation. It is so humbling for me to think about The Greatest Generation, because sometimes I’m so disgusted with my own. We can be such a bunch of shitheads. I shouldn’t generalize: I can be such a shithead. I can’t even write a whole paper without getting on Facebook. I buy all of my groceries from a store less than a mile away and I drive there. I complain about having to wash dishes that aren’t my own. I’m afraid – I’m really, really afraid – that I don't actually know how to work hard.
I want to chalk this up to being a child of this age, to being a kid who’s grown up with unimaginable comforts and who’s never really been tested. But I can’t, because even though that’s true, I come from tough stock. I can’t make excuses that other members of my generation can. I fucking owe it to myself, my grandpa, my great uncle who’s long since passed, to TRY. They didn't quit, so I can’t, either.
So tonight, I'm going for a long run. I need to shake my shit out, so to speak.
And tomorrow, I rally. I’m getting that class back on track. I’m writing my thesis. I’m not giving up.