A Compassionate Philosophy

A Compassionate Philosophy

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

A Compassionate Philosophy

A half hour before test time, I was afraid to look in the mirror. But I had to assess the damages. After all, there were cute guys in this class. Granted, they would be worrying more about the final than what I looked like, and that was my hope at this point.

The first things I saw were my own bloodshot eyes. Where was that Visine? My hair looked like Attila the Hun had spent the night camping in it. Well, I’d pull it back into a ponytail and take the tangles out later.

And then I saw it. It was a huge swelling on the front of my chin that had to be the size of a small golf ball. Surely I was hallucinating from lack of sleep. I had never seen anything like that before. I’d heard of people getting hives from nerves. But a single hive, on the front of my face? I gingerly touched it. A hard swelling met my curious fingertips. What had caused this? The pizza I’d consumed at midnight or the Mountain Dew I’d consumed at two and four and six in the morning? Perhaps it was the Cap’n Crunch at three or the candy bar at five. My stomach had a strict policy. If I was going to keep it up all night, it insisted on being fed.

How was I going to cover this up? I rummaged through all of my toiletries until I found my lone bandage, put there for emergencies. Well, this qualified as one. Oh no, that looked really stupid. How embarrassing. Oh well, no time to do anything else about it now. My philosophy final was waiting for me. My beleaguered brain had tried all night to grasp the arguments of different philosophies so that I could write them down on the essay test this morning.

I loved to hear our philosophy professor in class. I could follow the arguments when he discussed them, but trying to formulate them on my own just wasn’t happening. Perhaps the bump was the result of stress. I had to pass this final, or I would fail the class. And I couldn’t fail the class, or I would have to take the college’s summer school sessions. And I couldn’t go to summer school because I needed to work to help pay for next fall’s tuition.

Swallowing the last gulp of flat Mountain Dew, I headed for class. I picked a seat that didn’t directly face the clock. That would only make me more nervous, and God knew I had already used up my adrenaline supply. Dr. Wennberg passed out the essay books while explaining the rules. We would have exactly one hour. My two pencils in hand, I waited for the signal.


I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and said a prayer: “Please, God, help me remember all that I’ve studied for this test.”

I looked over the questions. I could do this. I had to do this. I began writing.

Twenty minutes had gone by. I had been writing as fast as I could before I forgot the information. So far so good. But my eyes were so tired. They hurt so badly. They felt so heavy. I’d just rest them for a minute. I leaned my puffy chin on my hand.

Someone sneezed. I came to with a start. What?! I’d fallen asleep? I’d never done that before in a final! Oh no! Fearfully, I looked at the clock. Only ten minutes left?! I’d slept a half hour? Oh no!

I thought I’d used up all my adrenaline, but I was wrong. I broke out in a cold sweat. What could I do in ten minutes? Think, I must think. I need a plan. I’m doomed. No, think. I began writing as fast as I could to finish answering the questions.

I stared at the last blank page of the essay test booklet with its neatly ruled lines. Dare I? I had nothing to lose. I still had two minutes. I wrote Dr. Wennberg. I told him how sorry I was. How I’d stayed awake all night to study because this was important to me, only to fall asleep during the exam. How I’d really wanted to do better. I asked for mercy.

One week later, I stood in front of the test board where the results would be posted. The mysterious swelling on my chin had gone away with sleep, but I touched my fingers to my chin nervously. It wasn’t coming back, was it?

I stood awaiting my fate. The secretary came out and pinned a paper to the board. I scanned down the list of names, looking for my final class grade. There it was: a C-minus. Tears filled my eyes. I looked again. I had passed! I was sure I hadn’t deserved that. But I wasn’t about to argue! Dr. Wennberg had shown mercy. It was one philosophy lesson I’ve never forgotten.

Kristi Nay

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