Friday, September 21, 2012


My kids went skydiving for their birthday, and no, I don't regret letting them do it. And I certainly don't regret not jumping along with them, even though my husband does.

To be honest, there isn't much I regret. I believe life is all about the journey. You have to look at all the mishaps and missed opportunities and wrong moves and bad choices as part of the great adventure of life. And yet...

When I was a junior in high school, I was supposed to read The Scarlet Letter and write a paper on it. This was one of those assignments outside of the regular class assignments. There was no discussion or help. It was just, "Read this book on your own when you're not busy with all the other assignments I'm giving you, then write a thought-provoking essay." Huh? Seriously? Do high school teachers still do things like that?

I did not, in fact, read The Scarlet Letter. But I was a grade-focused student. So I opened up my Cliff's Notes and copied. I didn't think long and hard about what I was doing. I didn't consider getting caught. I didn't care that I was plagiarizing. I was a teenager... completely and totally invincible and doing what I had to do to survive.

When I got the paper back, there were some lovely comments about my thoughtful and well written essay, along with a respectable A-. That grade and all the comments were then crossed out with a thick red marker, and in angry writing below, my teacher had scrawled, "See Cliff's Notes pages 23-27. The Scarlet Letter for you is an F."

The shame I felt from that F flattened me. This was junior year. This was English, my favorite subject. This was the teacher in charge of the National Honor Society. How could I have been so stupid?  I was never able to look my teacher in the eye again. This must have been how poor Hester Prynne felt. Or was it? I honestly didn't know since I hadn't read the book.

Ever since then, whenever The Scarlet Letter has come up in conversation (you'd be surprised how often that is) I've thought about that big red F, and I've felt regret. Not for having plagiarized, because really, my teacher's response was so perfect that it almost made it worth it. I mean, would you ever again pull a stunt like that after getting a scarlet F? I wouldn't. Lesson learned. Thank you. My regret is for not pushing myself to read a challenging book. The book was too hard to understand at the time, and I didn't want to put forth the effort. I took the easy way out. Then in college I chose not to major in English because I was afraid of coming up against difficult books like The Scarlet Letter. That is regretful.

So now, close to thirty years later, my son is reading The Scarlet Letter for school. And guess what I took out of the library yesterday?

I'm going to read it without a teacher's help, without classroom discussion, and without, thankfully, having to write a paper.