Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
This week I had the honor (or sentence) of introducing 8th graders to Bill Shakespeare. As a precursor to Romeo and Juliet, the literature teachers facilitated some class discussions on true love. I laughed pretty hard while dialoging with the other teachers at the end of the day. One particular teacher broke down the dynamics swirling about the classroom as the discussion dissected the essence of love. The first comments came from the future valedictorian, who despite best efforts to intellectualize love just could not do it. After a brief silence where no one knew how to respond, the girls began chirping like birds. Midway through the soliloquy, a crew-cut wrestler who aims to enter the army at eighteen interrupted, “All this love talk threatens my manhood.” The discussion raged on when my colleague looked over to the right side to see a girl with her arms wrapped back around her torso, hugging herself. She rocked gently and stared encouragingly at a friend in tears across the room. The friend had just broken up with her boyfriend, and this love talk felt like salt on a wound without the healing.
I had my own fun with the topic but also received a gift in the process. Prior the discussion, I instructed the students to fill out a “love survey”. Do you believe in love at first sight? Does true love last forever? Is true love different than regular love? I originally thought I needed to prepare for this class. Nope. As soon as I let my first question fly, it was like walking through crossfire.
“Of course there’s a difference between true love and love!”
“Yes! Love at first sight is possible. Of course!”
“True love can never end!”
These all came from the female voices, mind you. With such strong passion flaring about the room, I decided to play devil’s advocate. I learned that if a couple falls in love in their mid-twenties, marries, then gets divorced thirty years later, it was never “true love” to begin with. The differences between love and true love hinges on whether the relationship lasts, the actual feelings experienced, and whether fate involved itself. I had to challenge all the rosy aromas floating about the room. This of course became a dialogue with the girls. The guys struggled to enter the conversation, though they offered a meager attempt with a Dumb and Dumber metaphor.
In an attempt to explain true love, Tracy offered up a story from the previous night’s American Idol. Danny Gokey had tragically lost his wife just before the competition this season. According to the mini-story Idol created for the show, Danny mustered up everything he could just to appear at the try-outs, his late-wife serving as his motivation. The story won me over, to say the least, especially when he wowed the judges with his vocals. Tracy confirmed that this as true love. “But what if he remarries in the next ten years?” I asked. “Would that discredit the true love and simply make it regular love?”
Tracy, along with her entourage, would have none of that. As the objections flew my way, I began to appreciate the gift before me. This is the feminine heart. Alive still to the fairy tale, to the hope of the glass slipper’s perfect fit. The invitation delighted me, and I could almost smell the fragrance of Juliet’s innocence.
I shared the experienced with my friend Bob that evening, and I heard his heart melt. How great it would be, he said, to sit with these girls turned women twenty years from now. Their hearts won’t make it unscathed. Perhaps the quiet girls in the classroom already know the inevitable. For others it will occur like subtle erosion, pain and shattered hopes weathering away the solid belief that happily ever after exists. Others will have their tower of dreams leveled in a single smash dealt by an unloving villain. I pray none fall so far as to adopt this t-shirt, “Someone should sue Disney for making every girl believe that they have a Prince Charming.”
Last night Shannon and I were planning to watch a DVD. In the process of turning everything on, she recognized the already televised movie, A Cinderella Story. I had knelt down toward the DVD player when her shriek made me jump, “NO!” Sigh. She still has it. Her journey has been marred and tarnished, but God has rescued and healed enough that she can still announce with girlish glee, “We have to watch Cinderella at the dance!”