In praise of my shrewd operator baby sister sitting her Leaving Cert

Half-way through. It’s all nearly over, Ellen

 

My baby sister is by now half-way through her Leaving Cert exams. Sitting here writing this a week before she starts, I am filled with relief just by putting these words down on paper. Half-way through. It’s all nearly over, Ellen.

That relief is not just for her, but for us, too. Relief that we will have our cool-headed, sharp-witted sister back, and not the mute mole who has been occupying her body for the past few months.

The weight of the Leaving Cert exams is visible in a student who is pushing themselves to the limit.

I could have sworn my skin turned a strange, translucent grey sort of colour from all the time I spent in a dark room with just a study lamp.

I remember the intense stress of feeling like this was my defining moment; the single assessment that would cement my place on the totem pole of life – the hour of reckoning.

World of elites

I so longed for my 500 points, my pass for the world of elites. A vindication of my lack of sporting prowess or musical talents. I wanted the Leaving Cert to prove I was talented; I was bright, I was worthy.

Of course, the Leaving Cert will never do that. I cried like a baby when I opened my results, which were more than respectable.

If I knew then that I would one day have the privilege of writing for The Irish Times, I would not have cried tears of disappointment.

My sister has that familiar, burdened look about her too. She is tense; the weight of the task ahead is resting heavily on her young shoulders.

I wish I could pick her up out of those depths and show her the light which lies ahead. The fulfilment that life will bring, a contentment which no Leaving Cert result page will ever contain.

College and work and the process of carving out your career is so much more nuanced than a simple sheet of letters handed to you in August. Often, the two do not correlate at all.

But who ever thinks about it like that at the time?

Brand of torture

It seems to be a very particular brand of torture, the Leaving Cert. It stretches you in all directions because of the variety and large number of subjects.

The expectations piled on you, largely by yourself, can be suffocating for such a young person.

I hate to see my baby sister so bound by the stress of it all; chained to the desk like a prisoner in solitary confinement.

My brother, on the other hand, was never as well-slept or sharp-looking in all his life than when he did the Leaving Cert.

He floated through that year with ease, rarely looking at a book and certainly not concerned about what any results would say about him.

He knew what he wanted, he knew it was within his grasp and he was confident in his own abilities.

He ended up going to college to do exactly what he wanted, and has never looked back.

Tinkering with fate

Perhaps the youngest could take a lesson in serenity (*cough* negligence) from him. Failing that, she has a family of worriers scurrying around her, trying to tinker with fate.

I lit a candle for her in the Santa Maria Maior Cathedral in Lisbon while I was there on holidays, eating and drinking all around me and not a care in the world.

It is a very affecting thing, praying to a higher power for mercy.

Standing amid the flickering candlelight of a church that has sheltered pilgrims for centuries, it gave me some comfort to do what I have seen generations of my own family do in times of stress or worry.

I’m sure my mum has made the pilgrimage to Knock by now, like she did for all of us.

She used to say that my granny was keeping us all alive and well with her daily prayers for us.

Maybe she’s putting in a good word for us up past the pearly gates too.

After all, she has a direct line to him now and it wouldn’t be like her to be quiet about it.

She always said my sister was a “shrewd operator” and mostly, we agreed.

Time now Ellen to prove your granny right and put all those years of sagacious learning down on paper.

We’ll be waiting for you.

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