I remember when I saw a group of my seniors off to prom.
It was so entertaining to see them looking so snazzy, “dressed to the nine” as they say. Each one had their own unique flare – whether it was a fez, a kilt, a homemade dress/vest/tie/pocket square combo, or just that perfect corsage.
The girls giggled ceaselessly with wonderful smiles from ear to ear. The guys did what guys do, which is try to play it cool and nonchalant, but you could sense that they were just as excited as the ladies were. They would steal a quick glance from their lovely date, and you knew they were thrilled to be where they were, and with whom they were there with.
The parents were beaming just as brightly as they snapped a countless amount of pictures from legions of perspectives and angles. At one point I was tempted to ask the students for an autograph, because the paparazzi of proud parents filled this living room with the flashes eagerness and enthusiasm. They even had me join in on the fun of picture taking for a while, and since Friday is tux day in my world anyway, I was prepared for the occasion.
Mothers made small, loving adjustments to boutonnieres as sons looked on utterly confused, and fathers gave proud shoulder slaps as these fine young men and women prepared to head out for their evening.
As I sat and watched this delightful scene unfold, I was so wrapped up in the nostalgia of it all.
I remember what it was like going to these dances for the first time. I remember being shorter than a number of the dates I accompanied in high-school. I remember getting “the talk” from fathers I hardly knew, and wondering if they knew that I was a terrified homeschooled boy with no intent to attempt any intimacy beyond that of holding the door open. But boy oh boy, could I hold a mean door.
I remember sweating profusely days before the dance even happened, shaking with nervousness at the thought of taking a girl to a dance. “How am I supposed to dance?” I would wonder. “What are we supposed to talk about? “What if my hair catches on fire?” “What if her hair catches on fire”? “If they play Journey I’m going to have to pull out the air guitar. But what if she doesn’t like air guitar?” These are the questions that plagued my fragile, adolescent mind.
One year I even went to multiple proms in multiple states because, well, I was “that guy” to a number of friends, I suppose. Not the smooth, romantic “that guy”, but the safe and nonhazardous guy. The guy where, when female friends would be venting and say something to the affect of “All guys are absolute pigs”, I would wear an expression of insult and they would respond “Oh Ian, you’re practically not even a guy though.” I never quite understood what that meant. I liked baseball, steaks, pretending to know how to work on cars, golden retrievers, and Happy Days. But for whatever reason, I was the safe guy and would do anything for my friends. Even drive hours and hours so that a friend wouldn’t have to go to prom alone. It’s sappy, I know – but I absolutely love people and it just seemed like the right thing to do.
I remember one year, my senior year to be exact, prom time was approaching, so me and my two best buds began to plan for this momentous occasion. For starters, we rented an imitation Rolls-Royce stretch limo. I knew with a vehicle of that caliber, I had to do my best to coordinate my attire, so I decided on a pinstripe Zoot Suit – complete with two-tone shoes, chain, hat, and cane of course. I thought about packing heat just to tie the ensemble together, but my mother wasn’t particularly keen on that idea.
So we got the limo, and proceeded to pick up each of our dates at their respective homes. When we arrived at our last house however, the might limo died. And it died hard. Bruce Willis would’ve been proud.
Thinking that this would only be a temporary setback, we did what we could to pass the time. Played some basketball, pulled out the golf clubs, and posed some really bizarre shots with our driver. Now that I’m thinking about it, he really was a strange chap. Eventually it became clear that this limo was not going to ready for the road anytime in the near future, so the rental company sent us a replacement.
Our replacement was a beautiful 57′ Chevy – a 57′ Chevy with two blown out back rear windows with tarp taped over the opening. Our crew was also eight persons large, and the Chevy only sat six. So frustrated and now quite late, we drove ourselves to the banquet hall.
I don’t remember a whole lot about the dance, to be honest. I know I probably made of fool of myself on the dance floor, I likely made multiple random statements at dinner, I may have even stolen something from the banquet hall. I remember having a good time, though, just glad to be in such good company. I remember contemplating how I would’ve developed and who I would’ve become friends with had I gone to public school. Most of the friends I had before getting pulled out were in fairly serious trouble, on multiple levels. I remember looking at at the crowd and really wanting to be a part of the legacy I had been estranged from, but also feeling quite a sense of calm that I had begun to forge a different path -along with some decent dance moves along the way.
I had to leave the dance early to take my date home, I think because her parents weren’t particularly fond of me. I don’t blame them, I was a bit of a trouble maker, a smart-alec, and a reckless adventurer. Plus, I was a drummer with a VW Bus at this point, which I now know is not a winning combo with most parents.
After I took my date home and awkwardly maneuvered around whatever the goodnight protocol was, I learned that my two buds both had been ditched by their dates. In light of our unfortunate but slightly comical situation, we decided to simply pull out the old fire pit and grill some hot dogs on my friend’s driveway. We may have even gotten wild and ventured into the world of roasted marshmallows as well, but I’m not at liberty to disclose that kind of information. It ended up being a pretty remarkable evening with the three of us sitting in our tuxes around a small fire pit, talking about life and the struggled we faced. Eager, like the students tonight to share life together, to adventure forward with whatever madness God was calling us towards, and with the willingness and mobility to actually do it. There was something about our setting, our situation, and our attire that reminded us that the important and meaningful things in life can’t be bought, rented, or even always planned.
The next thing I remember is waking up at 6am on my friend’s driveway, still dressed in my ridiculous Zoot Suit, along with my two other sharply dressed friends. The fire pit coughed out the occasional cloud of smoke and the hum of traffic on the nearby road began to grow louder. I remember peeking out and laughing at the ridiculous scene before me. Three high-school seniors passed out on the concrete in their $170 rental tuxes, but instead of beer cans and cigarette buts, we had hot dog remains and marshmallow goo. I laughed with a glint of pride at the inanely unique exhibition of high school rebellion we modeled. I cannot imagine that many others at that dance had an evening even similar to ours.
As dull as it may sound in it’s retelling, that evening reinforced in my mind the reality that without friends, without that deep accountability, all the excitement and enthusiasm in the world isn’t worth a thing. I think I so often get caught up in the potential of a cause or movement that I loose sight of who I am journeying with.
We so often dress up in the clothes of royalty and parade in the vehicles of aristocracy, when what we actually need to do is fall asleep on the driveway of a best friend and bear our souls with one another. To realize that at the end of the day, no matter what plans we’ve made, long-term or short-term, all our calculations and forecasts need to come second to community, to vulnerability. And to know that it doesn’t happen by chance. We don’t simply fall into a pit of healthy brotherhood, but that it must be sought out with all that we are. God has designed us for this.
Our dates may leave, our cars may die, but God promises to never leave or forsake us. May we live like we believe that and do so in humble fellowship and love.
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)