8:36:32 p.m Sunday: September 24, 2006. At home. My brain conked out. From the minutest energy left of it, all it could muster was a faint drone, and then …blank…
For those not in the know, September 24 was the last day for this year’s bar examinations. For law graduates like me, this was the day when we ran the final dash to the last pitstop, our final stab at glory.
After the 8th bar subject, I went out of De La Salle dazed - amidst the noise and raucous fun. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. And exhaustion. I almost fell on my knees, weakened by a battering only a seasoned warrior would have endured. And of course, joy! Just reaching that moment was bliss enough.
It felt like being part of a battalion of soldiers returning home from a hard-fought war, only that nobody knew who won as of yet. It felt great to finally reach home, but the celebration can only be muted. Reality check: the agony is not over, but that’s another story.
All of us recognized that the key to survival was discipline. And the crux of the game was reading, analyzing, memorizing, reading, reading and more reading.
And read we all did, like crazy. I have not read as many materials in my entire life. Some books I even had to read twice or three times over. That, hoping in vain, that repetition would cause full mastery of the law.
The study of law, I am convinced, is most challenging in this part of the world. I’ve been to graduate school, and I swear, it was peanuts compared to the discipline, dedication and toughness required by law school.
The usual hazing in the classroom is hell enough, but the review period and the actual exam were worse.
It was geek period all through out. From daybreak to midnight, we flooded our brains with hundreds of laws, commentaries, jurisprudence and everything else remotely affiliated with the law. Listening to lectures was rest period. The rest was marathon reading.
There seemed at the time, an endless flow of must-reads. Everywhere I looked, co-candidates read books other than what I hold. And all professed that their authors teach better law than mine. Result: the photocopiers just loved me. I just can’t resist the temptation to secure a copy of each.
September was when the mental torture rose. Despite five months of rigorous reading, I still felt like I was not learning enough. While my friends seemed gaining confidence, mine somersaults every time I can’t answer certain questions.
The idea is to leave no stone unturned. In the review, every topic is deemed important. To avoid over-stretching ourselves, our mentors tell us not to explore the law to the deepest abyss. But one just can’t help getting rattled when his seatmate seemed to know things he has not even dreamed of before.
The Real Battle
The call to arms on the first Sunday of September came early; time for the first set of exams.
I was a total wreck. I did not get any decent sleep since the week before. There were just too many more things to comprehend and be confidently familiar with that sleep became nothing but luxury. No amount of valium, ativan or stilnox could tame a brain running wild. Besides, I was afraid I’d not wake up in time for the exams, so I did not push the issue.
And of course, there was always the mythical leak on the questions that kept me on nervous guard for most of the time. With the SMS technology on full blast, I received a stream of “tips” supposedly coming from the most reliable of sources (Globe and Smart must have been very happy). Add the topics floated around to my own list of musts, and what results is unimaginable chaos.
I reached the all-too familiar bar site quite early. When we were still in the lower years, this was one place for fun time. We get to chat for hours along Taft Avenue and ogle at the wandering eye-candies. It was a picnic, to say the least. Drinking is prohibited, but trust law students to find ways to circumvent regulations.
But this time, being ourselves the examinees, the festive mood just fueled the tension. While one gets tempted to dance to the gongs of the cordillera universities, there was always the fear that even the slightest movement will shake your brain and lose everything in it.
This I want to tell law students: it’s eerie the moment one’s inside the examination room. Every examinee has his own last minute ritual. Mine was a constant rush to the CR. Honestly, I didn’t know what hit me. I have always thought I was a veteran of examinations, more seasoned than most of those who went straight to law school from college. But we were equals after all. Or maybe yet, I was even more horrified. The uncontrollable churning of my insides attested to that.
Maintaining composure was a challenge. All I could do was sing in my mind (lest my seatmate freaks out if I suddenly burst in a song). “ Yahweh, I know you are here. Standing always at my side”. Yes, even agnostics become religious at the time of the bar exams.
It was pretty much the same torturous routine for the other three Sundays. No sleep, restless cell phone bearing the “reliable” tips, last minute readings. Praying.
But the degree of frustration rose to crazy heights every week. A lot of the questions seemed like they were meant for the bar exams in Mars. What happened to all that we have read? For most of the time, it was plain massacre. The examiners simply know where to hit us the hardest. Or how.
A single stray question could already send one’s battered mind to panic kingdom. To my dismay, there were just so many of them in this batch that sustaining sanity became the ultimate challenge. One law professor commented that it was really meant to separate the initiated from the neophytes. I’m not sure if I could agree.
Crying they say, is the biggest comforter in times of distress and deep disappointment. Indeed, a deluge of tears relieved the stress out of some of us. Many examinees silently wept at Starbucks Vito Cruz and Seattle’s Best Harrison Plaza. Me? I must have shed a tear or two. Alone.
But just like everything, the torture (at least for that phase of the journey) ended. But not the side effects. They remain.
Now, the waiting
After the bar, I dreaded seeing, more so reading, my law books and review materials. When I surf the net, I cannot get past the home page of the Supreme Court and Lawphil. The questions are available in both sites but I can’t muster the courage to even take a peek. My brain is still recuperating. Any discussion on the law is taboo. Ask me anything about certiorari, habeas corpus, people’s initiative and any other legal concept, and you’ll receive nothing but a blank stare.
There was nothing short of a shut down here. Until now, my mind cannot seem to process anything that has legal implication.
Is this what they call trauma? I guess so. And the best therapy I was told for this type of pain is never to go through the same experience again.
That I cry to high heavens for. I beg that I won’t pass the same exhausting, demanding trail again. I wish I’d later see my name in the passers’ list. I hope.
But this is not really time for worries. My fate is no longer in my hands. For now, my biggest concern is trying to nourish my mind back. I hope writing for this blog will help me exercise my tired brain. And so would other activities that I passed upon while going through law school.
The agony of waiting doesn’t help, but it has become part of the equation. I have to live with it because soon enough the waiting will end.
For you who will be reading this, do spare me a prayer too. Or if you are likewise an examinee, allow me to wish you good luck and may we see each other at the PICC come oath-taking time.
Should that time come, with victory in hand, our batteries will have been fully recharged and ready to meet the trials of the new world that awaits us.