Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Test

As I sat in the quiet room, the only sound that I could hear was the sound of my own blood, pumping through my veins. They sounded like the roar of a freight train in my ears. It was like I could feel the vibration of my heart as it pounded in my chest. "What am I doing here?", I asked myself.

My eyes wandered to the cross stitch hanging on the wall. It was a series of three lighthouses on the edge of the ocean. Were they there to calm me? Maybe it was working...I really couldn't tell.

I could feel the weight of the strap that hung loosely around my chest. The strap around my belly was barely noticeable. My left hand looked like I had pulled it out of a bowl of spaghetti...long wires dripping off of my index and ring fingers. As I continued to sit there, my left arm began to feel numb. The blood pressure collar had been pumped up for about three minutes now and the feeling in my fingertips was beginning to tingle.

"What am I doing here?"

All, my life, I have done well on tests. I was a good student in high school, graduating in the top ten percent. I probably could have done better, but being valedictorian had never been a goal of mine. But, when I knew I had a test coming up, I would cram and study and do well. Even in college, when I actually studied for tests, I would usually pass them with ease. My problem in college was that I usually missed more classes than I attended and getting drunk was more interesting and enjoyable than spending hours at the library. But still, I knew that if I wanted to pass the test, all I needed to do was study.

When I worked as an educator, it didn't take long to figure out that if I wanted my students to be successful on their exams, then I needed to make sure they knew what was on the test. Sure, they had to study, but I couldn't' expect them to do well if I didn't tell them what they were being tested on.

As I sat in that quiet room, I realized I was taking a test that I had never studied for. And this was not the kind of test that I wanted to fail. Without a doubt, my anxiety meter was running at about 110. Not a good thing, since one of the things this test measured was anxiety and it counted against you.

When I first came in today, I shared with my tester what I was feeling.

"I have to be honest with you, I'm feeling a little bit anxious today", I told him.

"Why is that?, he asked.

"Well, one of the guys in my group failed his test a few weeks ago, and it wasn't because he had the wrong answers", I replied. "Plus, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal last week about these tests and how you can fail them even if you give correct answers."

"Yea, I heard about that", he said. "But don't worry, you'll do fine today. Just relax."

"Easy for him", I thought as I sat there. But then, as I continued to sit there, I began to feel a little better. I liked the tester...he had tested me before and I trusted him. I had been praying for the last week about his moment and it seemed that maybe God's covering was beginning to settle over me.

He told me that today would be similar to the last time. He would begin by asking me some "yes" or "no" questions and then we would do the test. Easy enough, I thought.

The first few questions were pretty easy. "Was my first name Patrick?" "Was I 51 years old?" "Had I been stopped or talked to by a policeman since my last test?" Then it happened..."did I drink any alcohol since my last test?

"Yes", I answered. The tested paused and looked at me. "Is that OK?" he asked. I told him there were no restrictions in my conditions except for drunkenness and that I hadn't been drunk. He moved on.

"Have you masturbated since your last test?" Once again I answered "yes". Again, he stopped and looked at me.

"Did you disclose it to your group?"

", was I supposed to?" All of a sudden, my anxiety was coming back. He didn't really know if that was something I was suppose to disclose or not, but he said that in most groups, it was.

I realized that this was a test that I wasn't prepared for. As a teacher, I know that one of the best ways to learn is to ask questions and I hadn't been doing that in my least I hadn't been asking the right questions. I was suddenly realizing that maybe there were things that I was supposed to tell the guys each week that no one had told me about. And now, I was going to have to pay the ultimate price for it...perhaps my freedom.

The rest of the questions went my big surprises or anxiety lifters. No more questions about things that maybe I should have shared with my group but didn't. Nothing that raised my concerns. Then he went through the questions that he would be asking me and asked me if I was ready to begin.

I can feel my arm throbbing now as my ears detect the scratching on the paper behind me. My eyes are closed and I try to control my breathing. I usually breath through my mouth but he tells me not to breath heavily so I try to breathe through my nose instead. At times, it feels like I can't breathe at all and my lungs feel like bursting. It's like I'm on the bottom of the pool, holding my breath. I can feel the pounding in my ears and in my chest. The regular pattern of my breathing is broken as I take a deep breath to refill my lungs.

He has been asking me questions now for about a minute. Between each question, he pauses for about 30 to 45 seconds. I'm sure it's so I have a chance to think about my answer and have time to worry about it and make the needle dance for him. But, a strange calm is resting over me. I know that I haven't done anything wrong since I've been out of prison that is a violation of my probation. All I can do is tell the truth and let the cards lay where they fall. I've been trusting God for His grace and mercy and covering for the past four years. Why should I begin to question that trust now.

He administers the questions twice, and then speaks those words I've been waiting to hear since I was told I needed to take this test two weeks ago.

"You passed. Everything looked good, except there was a little bounce on the question about revealing everything to the men in your group", he said as he started to disconnect the wires. I smiled to myself as I lifted my arms so he could remove the straps from around my chest and belly. There was no need to worry about this test in the future. I know now that I need to make sure I do my homework and find out exactly all that is expected of me by the group. I can't expect them to answer my questions if I don't' ask them. I realize some of them might not be easy questions to ask...some are going to be very personal and will cause me to reveal more of myself...and the secrets that I've held so tightly to for so many years. But maybe this is part of God's plan for my teach me to be more transparent and to learn to trust.

Like many tests, I'm always glad when they are over. But I've learned that to be a good student, you have to learn from the test. This was a test I am glad I took...glad that I passed...and glad that it taught me something.