My inner anthropologist compelled me on Saturday night to go to our high school and witness a cultural phenomenon called “walking out.” At proms in the west, this doesn’t occur. But here in Downeast Maine it’s the event of the year.
Before the prom begins, the juniors (even though all grades were invited) link arms with a friend or date and march out on a catwalk to pose for pictures. In the audience seated below, their family and friends whoop and cheer as the music plays.
It was fun to see my students all dressed up: the muck boots and hoodies swapped out for buttoned shirts and jackets. The stretchy pants and plaid tops traded for beaded gowns and updos.
And the beautifully decorated gym never smelled better—the combination of perfumes and colognes replaced the usual waves of B.O. (Then again, the dancing hadn’t yet started.)
But, according to the comments I heard around me before I left, it was all very painful.
“Seventy bobby pins! That’s what’s holding this hair up—seventy. My head’s killing me.”
“Are dresses supposed to feel like your [bahonkas] are going to fall out of them every five minutes?” (If I had my sewing machine with me, I would have taken her to my classroom and made her straps, if only to get her date to stop staring.)
“I already kicked off my shoes. I don’t care what my mom says, I know I should have worn my moccasins.” (Still the dancing hadn’t started.)
“Dude, I spent an hour with a Youtube video trying to figure how to tie this tie.”
“Why didn’t you just order a clip-on from Amazon like the rest of us?”
“What’s a clip-on? Man, that would have been WAY easier.”
“No, I can’t eat anything. My mom rented this tux from Bangor [a two-hour drive away]. She said she’d kill me if I got anything on it.”
(There was a lot of “killing me,” and my inner English teacher was chanting, Hyperbole, Hyperbole.)
Overall, the kids looked great. Girls squealed in delight at each other and their dresses and hair, boys guffawed at their friends, punched them in the shoulder, and told them they looked “sick.” (That’s a compliment, by the way. Took me only a few months to figure that out.)
Another teacher murmured to me on our way out before the dancing began, “They clean up pretty well, don’t they?”
They really did.
A few boys who barely seem awake in my class were bright-eyed and dashing. I almost didn’t recognize a few others without their trademark baseball hats (oh wait–there they are, proving anything can go with a baseball hat if you’re a Mainer boy).
Then there was the girls who usually wear torn jeans and apathetic expressions, but were instead smiling shyly with smoky eyes and in gorgeous gowns. There were a few girls I didn’t even recognize in their glamour gear and huge grins.
(And occasional winces, because of shoes. And because of hairdos. And because of dresses which threatened to pop out strategic parts of their anatomy.)
I always thought the school had a lot of pretty girls, but that night all of them had progressed to “stunning.” And the boys were so close to “debonair” it was jarring.
I was surprised at my pride in all of them, especially when I recognized a few of my students strutting on the catwalk. (But calling out “AP LIT POWER!” would have sounded ridiculous.)
I have a terrible confession to make: for years I’ve thought prom was a waste of time and money. I seconded the griping of one of my students about his date. “Her mom’s taking her all the way to Bangor to get her hair done. It’s gonna cost $200. For what?”
Exactly. All this effort, expense, fanciness—for what? Some of my own children went to prom, and I made dresses (less than $100) and helped (sort of) with hair, and hoped the dates didn’t spend too much money.
But why bother at all?
Saturday night, I knew why: to let these newly-emerging adults see what they can become.
No, not some glamorous model on a magazine (but pink mermaid above certainly could be). But that with some effort, care, and attention, they can shine and dazzle.
Sometimes I’m given insights into people—glimpses into who they were before they were born and who they can become later in life. And it’s a good thing those glimpses are rare, because they overwhelm me. C. S. Lewis was right in that we never talk to “mere mortals:”
“There are no ordinary people. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
I sometimes see who my students were, and who they can become. It’s staggering. So much strength. So much potential. So much power, wrapped up in these tense bodies of anxiety and worry and worldliness. It’s good for them to see themselves—and each other—at their “best” that none of them knew existed.
To feel, just for one night, the grandeur of what may be.
No wonder their parents were there, proudly taking pictures and cheering. They have glimpses, too, I’m sure. At least they have hope. They sigh and think, “Almost there . . . almost there . . .”
And as their teacher, it was good for me to see them, too. These are the moments when I think, “There’s still hope for the future. Look at these kids. Don’t despair just yet. Give them a chance to shine like this all the time.”
(NOTE: I didn’t take any of these amazing photos, but gleaned them from Facebook and emails, and my students agreed I could use them.)
[Sneak peek to Book 8: The Last Day]
Cloud Man smiled as he wiped Young Pere’s face, as if he were washing up a toddler. “Chin up. Up, up. Too bad there’s no time for a shave. You grow the most ridiculously splotchy beard. Now, behind your ears . . . And over to your forehead . . .”
Sergeant Beaved, observing the cleaning up of his prisoner, rolled his eyes and turned around in embarrassment.
Young Pere struggled to keep his face from contorting. Cloud Man was the best.
“Now close your eyes. We need to get all that dust off. Why, you’re not as tan as I thought you were. Most of that coloring is dirt. Tsk, tsk. What would you mother say? Oh, I guess we’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?”
Young Pere snorted.
“Now your hair . . . hmm. I think I have a comb somewhere. Ah, here it is! I don’t think I’ve even used this. Let me comb through this . . . It’s as if you haven’t bathed in days, Young Pere.”
“Because I haven’t, Cloudy. None of us have. We’ve been invading Salem, remember?”
“Tsk, tsk. Your hair would be better if it was shorter. Guess there was no time for a decent cut after they released you from the dungeon. We’ll just comb it up and over your ears. Now, let me look at you. Hmm. Guess we need a woman’s opinion. Do they generally consider you handsome?’
“You might pass for handsome. Ruggedly handsome, since you’re not cleaned up properly—”
“Are you about finished?” Sergeant Beaved interrupted hotly. “Because I’m supposed to bringing him at any moment!”
Cloud Man nodded and patted Young Pere’s hand which still held the unlocked chain together. “I think we’re almost ready.”
~Book 8, The Last Day, coming Summer 2018