Monday, May 17, 2010

Personal Strength for Adult Life - Heavy Thoughts on Prom Night

It was Saturday night, and Kathleen and I were sipping wine with Amie on the lawn of the Huisache Grill in New Braunfels, Texas. Amie was visiting from Jacksonville, Florida, and we were catching up on the four years since we’d last seen each other.

All around us were teenagers dressed in tuxes and gowns, beaming with the self-conscious excitement of senior prom.

I tried to remember when I was that young. My prom was at the Stuttgart Officer's Club. We were all "brats," children of service families living in Germany. It was a great prom for me, for three reasons. First, my date that night was Belle, the brilliant, beautiful young woman who had captured my attention back then. Second, I had an appointment to West Point, which fulfilled a boyhood dream. I had a good idea of what was in store for me during the next four years. And -- this is the cool part -- Jerry Lee Lewis performed at our prom that night. I guess he was on tour in Germany at the time and it was convenient for him to do a set at the club. If you know anything about Jerry Lee Lewis, you know that his performance was amazing, something I'll never forget. I'll also never forget that Belle thought he was disgusting. Maybe it was the song about "great balls of fire." I don't know.

My graduating class was small -- it had fewer than 100 seniors. And Stuttgart wasn't a home town to any of us. Germany was a temporary home we would all leave and to which we’d never return. So we had our commencement, said our goodbyes, and each of us began very different life journeys back in the U.S. I eventually lost contact with Belle, and I never saw her again.

The teenagers at the Huisache behaved with reserve and decorum. What were they thinking about? My guess is that they were focused on looking good and having a good time while not making fools of themselves on their big night.

Certainly they weren’t thinking about the hard work, adversity and striving that are a part of making a life and achieving dreams. The two women seated next to me had plenty of stories to tell about that.

That evening, Kathleen was explaining to Amie what it was like to learn how to write a novel. She had a successful career as a banker, but after recovering from cancer she decided that she didn't want to continue doing that anymore. She wanted to write mystery novels, even though she had never written so much as a short story in her life. One essential qualification she did have, though. She loved mystery novels. She had read over a thousand of them, and she understood the genre. If there were such a thing as a Ph.D. in Mystery Novels, she had already earned it. But shifting gears like that late in life to master a difficult craft isn't easy.

Amie's life had been challenging, too. When we left Florida, she had her hands full with a bright eleven-year-old who had an undiagnosed attention disorder and a seven-year-old who had an undiagnosed learning disorder. Her husband traveled six days out of seven for business and there were marital conflicts. On top of that, her mother developed serious health problems and Amie made regular road trips to be with her.

Since we’d seen each other, Amie’s mother passed away, her marriage ended, and the boys are being treated and are in the right schools. Her life is much less stressful.

As the pre-prom group filed into the restaurant, an emergency vehicle pulled out of the garage across the railroad tracks, warning lights flashing and siren wailing. Life is perilous. Everything we hope for demands the best personal strength we have. Standing at the doorway to these dreams and challenges, these young people were near the end of a priceless opportunity to build a lot of the personal strength they'd need for the challenges ahead.

None of them seemed to be thinking about this sort of thing. Good for them. This was a time to celebrate. There would be plenty of time later to find out about the heavy lifting of adult life.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (2004 photo by Andre Karwath, used with permission from Wikimedia)

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