"This is a test. This is only a test." I must have heard those words hundreds of times while listening to the radio, watching television and even while hiding under my desk during air raids in grammar school.
The word "only" in the second warning is the one that has enabled me to endure thousands of tests in my life.
During my school years, from spelling to anatomy, or algebra to child development, whether in second grade or studying for my doctoral degree, I would silently repeat those often heard words to reduce my worry about a test outcome. "This is only a test."
Oh, I always did more than the necessary amount of preparation for any academic subject. So I have wondered why others who were better prepared than I was would cringe, sweat and become physically ill worrying about a simple academic test.
I definitely knew school tests were nothing to lose sleep about when I started having medical tests for undiagnosed ailments. When a doctor says, "We hope this test will tell us what is wrong." I'm thinking, "Is this a test I want to pass?" So when they slide me into MRI tunnels, extract dozens of vials of blood and have me answer questions with no right or wrong answer, I just keep repeating, silently, "This is only a test."
When my children were growing up, I definitely wanted a perfect score as a parent. I could calm myself when I did the wrong thing for the first time by repeating my life-learned mantra, "This is only a test." Nonetheless, I didn't want to fail the parent test.
When my children were in school, I encouraged them to study, do their homework and be prepared for tests. Most of the time they passed without a problem. On the rare occasions that they were disappointed, I assured them that, "This is only one test." I assured them that too many variables affect passing every test. It is impossible to pass them all with flying colors.
Dozens of emergency room visits, surgeries and more hospital stays for each of my children taught them that they couldn't prepare for every test in life.
For years, at daily Mass in a Catholic grammar school, I was warned that God would test my humanity. Even after my mother, only brother, grandmother who raised me and, painfully, my most devoted friend all died within a four-year period, I had to believe that no loving God would ever give such cruel tests. I remain human.
I have since been subjected to various tests throughout my career. I was laid off four times, changed venues and colleagues multiple times. I have had to learn countless strategies, techniques and skills. These career-tests and even past medical tests pale in comparison to the past loss of loved ones.
Yet I was totally unprepared for the emotional and physical test my family and I are undergoing. A teenage driver who ran a red light hit Tony, my only son, while riding his bicycle. This accident wreaked havoc on the lives of Tony, his wife, his children, his sisters, his father and me. This test has no discernible positive goal or reason. I feel inept and helpless. Tony is taking one of life's hardest tests. He has multiple, long-term injuries to his body and spirit that are testing his existence every waking minute.
If anyone will pass this test, Tony will. I need to trust and believe that our family will pass this test, no matter how inexplicable and unfair. I know all tests have a time limit. So I tell myself, "This is a test. This is only a test."