Am I A Wise Fool?

February 28, 2009

If it is so that I am too wise to be considered foolish, and too foolish to be considered wise, it is not also so that I am too wise and full of doubt that I am foolish as well as being too foolish and convinced that I am wise?

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
-William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616), “As You Like It”, Act 5 scene 1

I feel convinced that I am in doubt, at least for the time being; but at times, such a feeling is the most pleasurable of all.

Emmanuel College at Dusk

To be sophisticated is to handle rejection proudly and well; considering even the most painful of experiences as being valuable opportunities from which important knowledge may be derived.

My year 2008 was dedicated to fulfilling a dream which had been brewing in the back of my mind for some time; to apply to a university abroad. Certain of my own abilities; knowing myself able to one day be as accomplished as successful within the realm of the sciences, I decided to aim for the skies.

I applied to the University of Cambridge.

Having attended an interview at the university on a beautiful — however cloudy — day in mid-December, I learnt a month thereafter that my hopes and expectations had been in vain; though the university found me a lively applicant, they felt that I did not possess the level of knowledge which they during a competitive year sought. My application, and therefore also I, had been rejected. A year of anticipation had turned into nothing. Of course I was distraught and sad.

However, I knew that being upset would accomplish nothing, and I told myself that I could not allow an unexpected setback to affect me in any way; do I wish to accomplish something and make full use of my academic potential I cannot remember the past with a sense of regret; I must see it as valuable experience from which to learn!

I sat down and wrote a letter — however one which I never intended to send — for the process of writing and phrasing a letter has great potential of clearing one’s mind; almost as if the ink with which it was written was derived and harvested from the thoughts swirling before one’s eyes.

In times of distress I recommend this approach to you; when there is something on your mind; write a letter or a piece of prose. You need not show it to anyone do you not feel like it, as it after all was written for no-one but you.

I will however share my letter with you. Having written it I shared it with friends who believed it uplifting that I dealt with rejection so well. Therefore, are you interested (or perhaps in a similar position as I were) then I wish for you to read it and realise that if I can recover from such a stunning blow, then so can also you.


“Dear Professors of the University of Cambridge,

You will never read this letter of mine but I never the less found writing it worth my while; my purpose none other than to allow my mind to understand a decision never anticipated, one which paralysed me with its absurdity. Certainly there is a reasonable motivation underlying your final decision — of which I have no doubt — but I find it in my right to question the accuracy of your reasons never the less.

Monday January 5th was an ordinary holiday morning for me: I woke up at too late an hour before dining with my family. Having laughed with the people whom I dearly love I returned to my room to complete a line of reasoning — a hypothesis you would probably call it — which I had begun to formulate during the newborn hours of this day now already mature.

Truly, my affection for the sciences is a part of me; there is no other reason for why I allow it to occupy so many hours of my days; there is no reason for why I consider the sciences as one of my foremost priorities. I am not proud over the fact that I consider other assignments to be far inferior to the lines of reason which I entertain, but it is yet a fact I cannot deny. Indeed, substance is what I value, though I realise this may be something which I failed to make you understand.

Although my day had started with a morning like all mornings past, this changed as my mother entered my room. As excited as she was at that moment I do not believe I ever have seen her, the reason being a small envelope in her hand. The envelope was waved before my questioning eyes, and the red letters spelling ‘Cambridge’ on the postal mark told me that the white, small envelope contained the letter which I had awaited for more than half a year; inside laid the sheet of paper that would forever come to change my life!

For what seemed like hours — however a moment lasting only seconds — I held the envelope carefully in my trembling hands, my heart beating with the strength a fate soon revealed is alone in causing. On my left hand my mother stood, her back turned to me; she did not want to know what the letter said, her excitement most likely surpassing even mine. After all, I know my own abilities by heart, I know my strengths and weaknesses; I know what I am able to achieve. I did not doubt the contents of the envelope my hands embraced, never in my entire life had I been so certain of any thing!

Following a deep breath to calm the beats of my cheerful heart I reached for the exquisite pewter letter opener in shape of a crocodile which my parents had given me for Christmas; a piece of metal handicraft which I intend to treasure for the rest of my life. Today was the day when it was first to be used; the knife-like tail of the crocodile with its silver sheen would assist me in opening the letter of a lifetime. Truly, this was the purpose the pewter reptilian had been created to fulfil!

Carefully, I opened the envelope, the paper tearing perfectly as it met the blade of the crocodile’s tail. Holding my breath I placed the animal with its silver scales by my side and peered into the envelope, a single sheet folded three times lingering inside. I removed it from its protective paper and studied it; to unfold it I did not yet dare. I wished to treasure the moment; the moment illustrating the few seconds remaining of my old life before a new fate was to be revealed.

With hands still trembling, the heart in my chest still pounding with cheerful excitement, my mother standing by my side with her face teasingly covered by her hands, I unfolded the letter. ‘Dear Elisabeth’ the letter began, but my eyes were unable to linger further on those two words alone; something else had caught my attention. A few lines down the words ‘regret’ shone with a colour red I am certain my mind conjured on its very own as I have not seen the bright glimmer of defeat shine as brightly as it did then.

Six characters pulled me down from the ninth cloud, and I fell into a black hole of the darkness of a midwinter night. A knot formed in my throat and I blinked back tears, returning to the letter in my hands; truly, this could not be! I must have doubted myself one time too many, I must have allowed my mind to play tricks n me! I returned to the letter, reading it carefully through. The six letters were no longer ablaze, but they never the less remained. My application had been rejected. I believed I had failed.

Sharing this disappointing realisation with my mother she believed me pulling her leg, but the blankness of my mind and the tears rolling down my cheeks made words obsolete. I had failed to succeed. Surely, my mother mused, unwilling to accept that my dream had come to an end, my application must have been pooled; surely, my application must have been sent to other colleges for consideration, the college of my choice unable to offer me a place but without failing to realise my potential. They did not, my application was not pooled. I had failed two times over; it was over, my dreams had all been lost. Not even mercy was a kindness bestowed upon me!

These were news for which I had been wholly unprepared, how could I have been so wrong? I asked myself: how could this be? The anticipation and excitement of half a year — or more! — disappeared as the tears filled my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. I could barely phantom my fate, could this be true? Was there not even the slightest possibility that this was an evil dream from which I was soon to wake up? The pain I felt as however too real to be denied.

By now half a day has passed since the devastating news reached me and it all lies in the past. A new day has arrived and though dawn lies many hours away my day of disappointment has passed. I can still feel a few tears burning behind the lids of my eyes, but I see no point in allowing them to fall. Crying cannot do more for me than what it has already done, and my eyes are still all too swollen and red; I am no beauty in distress — but then again, who is? Indeed, I am beyond the stage of crying; I am now curious. How could a mistake such as this have been made?

Dear Professors — once again I turn to you — some people are scientists, born to lead through no other cause than reason — I am no world leader bringing about change through my words. Believe me; it is all for the best as the time has yet to come when the world is ready for me to make everything right. Yes, I have great faith in myself — too much some would say — but I am not incapable of doubt. To quote Shakespeare: ‘the fool doth think he is wise and the wise man knows himself to be a fool‘, I can quite safely say that I am a wise fool; doubtful of my wisdom.

A mistake has been made — this I know whether or not I am a fool — for I am indeed a fool, however one wise. The amount of scientific passion which I harbour, the creativity which has blessed my mind, the determination which defines who I am; they do not make me the perfect student — this I readily do admit — but they make me so much more; the make me me, they make me Miss Josephine, they make me a person of future success. I am determined to make something out of myself, no matter whether you are willing to aid me or not. I will get by, though the sting of disappointment has not yet faded, and I will re-emerge as a person stronger than she used to be.

This setback was no stone which broke my bones — it hurt more than so — but it will help me grow and it will help me succeed. I am in an admirable situation; I cannot deny this without lying. Though I wished to become a student of your university — ranked third in the world — I have secured an offer from another university, an offer which is no shame to accept at all. Nothing has been gained, but neither has anything been lost. A life of opportunity awaits me, no matter whether you want me or not.

One day you professors are going to realise the magnitude of your mistake, but I will hold no grudges as it is human to falter. It is not easy to understand people such as myself; those who are awkward by nature and not by nervousness, those who are the sophisticated scientists of the future whilst being unable to articulate their thoughts, those who were asked factual questions when philosophy is what defines their every thought. I am a regrettably slow, but immensely deep thinker. Do you ask me a question I require time to think; do you wish to know this and that you must give me time to ponder the implications of why and what. It is first after I have done this that I can give you an answer, but it cannot be reason enough for you to think less of me.

I know in my heart that I am one of the most able candidates who applied to your college and your university this year. I am intelligent, inventive and ingenious. I am determined, deterred by no disappointments and with the desire to derive substance from all matters of reason. This is what you have mentioned yourself as interested in educating and perfecting, and this is what I offered you. You turned me down and whilst the pain is mine, the regret is bound to eventually be yours. I will rise from my own ashes as does a phoenix bright and wise, and one day I shall attempt to convince you again — foolish would I otherwise be — and mark my words, one day I will succeed.

Yours sincerely,
Miss Josephine”