‘These are what we stay alive for’
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been bad in math. And not just the below-average type of bad, either, but the rock-bottom type. Back in grade school, all my classmates would answer math test questions with such confidence; they’d bring out their pencils, looking all genius, and proceed to write their solutions. And me? I just stared blankly at the test paper, my brain already frayed by the the sight of digits and math symbols.
I remember this one time in first grade when I turned a test paper in, and when I turned around to return to my seat my teacher yelled at me with an enraged look on her face. She told me to continue taking the test because I had riddled the answer sheet with question marks and I would probably get a 20/50 at best.
Then, in second grade, I had a math teacher who loved pitting the students in our class against one another using flash cards. Looking back, I can now answer those flash-card questions within a few seconds, but back then, whenever I heard the teacher calling my name to go against a classmate, I would start sweating profusely. I would sigh inward and reluctantly stand up. She would show the flash card and my opponent would answer the question in less than, say, seven seconds. Then that person would be pelted with praise and a round of applause, and I, well, I would take my seat and purse my lips, hating myself, hating my brain for not being able to compute mentally like the rest of my classmates could. Just another day in school for Jethro.
Jumping to high school, I was fortunate enough to pass the entrance test at a local science high school, but nothing had changed between me and math. I was still always lagging behind, even managing to get a 78 on my card — and that destroyed me. That was the last straw. I strived to turn things around and thankfully, I was able to pass math. But things were not improving the way I wanted them to. I was still a hermit when it came to numbers.
This is how it has always been with me. I’m now done with junior high, with the 78 I got in my first year of high school long forgotten, replaced by math grades never going below the 85 mark. True, I’ve improved, but surely not enough to be able to get into prestigious universities or pass national exams—which sucks.
All my life I’ve been bad at the one thing that may decide my future. Mathematics is always the sort of thing brilliant people can do, and although I consider myself to be relatively good with using the English language, English skills aren’t going to help me get past the math part of the University of the Philippines’ College Admission Test, the civil service examination, or even just the regular quarterly exams.
And I hate it. I hate how I live in a world where I can’t be good at something that matters to so many. I hate how my inability to solve numerical operations can be my downfall in the present, and in the future.
There was even a point in my life when I told myself that I would trade my English skills for math skills. But I decided against it when I made by breakthrough discovery via a clip from the movie “Dead Poets Society,” where John Keating says: “Medicine, law, business, engineering — these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love — these are what we stay alive for.”
That hit me. Hard. Not because it was a good movie or Robin Williams played John Keating so well, but because I felt in my heart that it’s true. I’m not degrading math or its many fields in any way, but it won’t be there for me to turn to when I’m sad or happy, or just bored. I would turn to painting and writing — things I’ve loved since the beginning.
Our world revolves around numbers, graphs, formulas and whatnot, but no mathematical equation can make you feel love or heartbreak or excitement like a sappy poem or a well-made book can. No graph can map the imagination of the human mind. And there are certainly no formulas to happiness or satisfaction.
Mathematics and all its subcategories are the fuel that drives us humans forward toward progress — no question there. But at the end of the day, the numbers won’t matter. What will matter are our emotions as humans, those that we express through our own forms of art because, in John Keating’s words, “these are what we stay alive for.”
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Jethro Bryan Andrada, 17, of Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, is a Grade 11 student under the HUMSS Strand at Wesleyan University-Philippines.
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