One letter

Everyone knew I was different. Special even. I knew English like no one else in the class. Indeed, the whole school. Or even neighbourhood. People called me names. Names like “genius”. No, not bullying around. Just stating the obvious, I guess. But with no admiration either. And not without envy or annoyance.

During my several years of school, we had many teachers of English. I can now remember at least ten to twelve different people trying to teach me their philological proficiency. It is hard to explain the fluidity of personnel. Maybe that was the point? Or maybe they did not see it?

The teachers were glad and supportive. They liked me. Most of the time, at least. Especially in the rare occasions of my making a mistake. They could then prove me wrong in front of the class. I guess they were all after the feeling of being superior to me. Sometimes they did dislike me. Usually when I pointed out their linguistic errors, that is. They felt they were questioned. They probably feared their authority was being undermined, too.

I like words, you see. Always have. When others were read fairy tales to or some other fiction for children, I read dictionaries and thesauri. Big to small, black to red, Webster to Oxford. Other kids would ask me how this word was to be spelled or how that phrase was to be written out. And the teachers would sharpen their ears, too. Maybe to test me. Probably to learn.

We had often what was called “dictations”. The teacher would pronounce twenty to thirty words we had learned by heart and we were to write them down on a piece of paper. No one was allowed to even consider cheating by peeking at other’s writings, let alone talk to each other. We would then hand our masterpieces to the teacher. She would read through each and every word and correct contingent mistakes.

One day, when I was thirteen or fourteen, we had the same kind of a survival test. I had been learning hard the night before and was sure to get all the words she would provide right. The kind of a linguistically competitive perfectionist that I am, I would be mildly put disheartened by having to “lose” to a teacher. Imagine my dismay when I got the paper back just to be informed I had not got the perfect score. I wrote “kindom” instead of “kingdom”. It was a genuine one-letter verbal faux pas. By my dimmed blue eyes, the teacher could sense me begging for life.

There is one lesson I know I learned from that episode in my life. My teacher, knowing how badly I needed to be perfect never stepped back. She gave me no freedom to even conceive a thought of me being able to get away with the slightest mistake. She may not have caused, but she sure enabled me to crave the perfection, that I had been striving for, more and more. She may not have taught me English, but she definitely taught me one thing. That this urge, the surge to score the perfect goal had, if at all, to be quenched some other time, some other place.

My teacher did not succumb to my selfish desire to compete and become better. Because of that, I, in my turn, did not gave way to despair over the minute, but at that moment colossal, failure of mine. Instead, I took it as a challenge. Which I now live out every single day.

Needless to say, the feral letter is ever present in every one of my “kingdoms”.

When you fail, how do you get back up on your feet again?

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