A fourth grader’s first agony of defeat

A strange memory popped up – my first painful encounter with defeat. It was in the fourth grade when I robustly volunteered for a needle threading contest: walk fast ten yards to the person holding up a needle, thread the needle in lightning speed, and … easy, I thought.

The first to thread the needle, I stopped right by the human post. I couldn’t understand why some zealots in the audience were waving ferociously at me. Were their waves victory gestures? I smiled triumphantly back at the waving people. But suddenly, my smile froze when I realized something was wrong. The other contestants were rushing back after threading the needle. Then gripped with the sad realization, my heart suspended in mid-air, anger with myself followed over “youthful stupidity” fringed on lack of focus. I was too busy listening to my thoughts of winning, and failed to hear the full instructions.

Anyway, my mistake couldn’t be undone. But wait, there’s more about the pain after. So, I went home trying hard to hide my tears. I didn’t wish for pity, nor for anyone to commiserate with my defeat. I went straight to bed, pretending to take a nap that afternoon. The truth, I softly cried my heart out. Then I quizzed myself – was I feeling distraught because I didn’t get the prize of one large lined notebook, two No. 2 pencils and one blue Bic ball pen? Honestly admitting to myself, I mumbled, no – not it. Then why, my pained curious mind asked. My suffering ego confessed – it was experiencing defeat, and its cohort shame, before a baffled “public”. The public consisted of a raucous crowd of three sections of fourth graders, around 120, three sections of fifth graders, around 115, plus six elementary school teachers, and yes, three nuns who looked disappointedly at me. After all, I was their favorite. And their favorite shouldn’t feel defeat as humiliating as that … or, was the reality of shame and humiliation just all in my head?

Linda P. Jacob