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Monday, 13 August 2007

Profile of Courage

By Sharon Lippincott of The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing

“Guess what I’ve decided,” announces Pat. “I don’t care who asks me, I’m not going to Prom this year.”

I’m stunned. Our lunch bunch of seven senior girls has devoted considerable time lately to discussing Prom. We’ve basically agreed that Prom is a trite and fluffy ritual that hardly deserves the support of sophisticated intellectuals such as we. But until now, none of us have stepped up to the plate, ready to take a stand.

One by one we pledge our support: “Yeah, me too.”

This feels right. It’s not as if it’s a cop-out to cover the lack of a date. We all went to the prom as juniors, so it holds no mystery. It is, after all, just a dance held in the Parish Hall, not much different from any other dance. We feel good, strong and united, four or five years before we’ll hear even preliminary rumblings of radical concepts like The Feminine Mystique.

A week passes without further discussion of Prom. Then one evening the phone rings. It’s for me. It’s Walter. With few preliminaries, he gets right to the point.

“I wonder if you’d like to go to the Prom with me?” he asks.

My heart sinks. Actually, I would like to go to the Prom with Walter. He’s one of the guys we hang around with. I’ve been square dancing with him and he’s good company. Quiet, a little shy, but nice. He’s also plenty tall, which is no small consideration for a girl who tops five foot six.

For a split second I’m torn between pledge and pleasure. Then a sense of power strikes like a bolt of lightening. In a blinding flash I understand Pat’s proclamation.

For the past several years, we have waited for boys to ask us out, defining our existence and self-worth in terms of whether or not we have dates. We have been prisoners of this system. We are not allowed, by our culture or our parents to do the asking. Now I see a door out of the trap, a way to break free from the oppression of waiting to be asked for a date. With a quiver of anticipation mixed with regret, I do what I have to do.

“I’m sorry,” I say with heartfelt sincerity, “but I already have other plans for that night.”

“Oh, well, okay. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I hang up with a mixed sense of elation and misery. Why did it have to be Walter? He’s so nice. He deserves better!

The next morning I tell Meg about Walter’s call.

“Omigosh,” she says, “he called me too!”

By second period we’ve discovered that he called all seven of us, and each one of us has turned him down. We don’t compare notes on timing.

I’m stunned by the situation. I can’t imagine anyone having the courage to call a third or fourth time after being turned down even twice. I feel so bad for him, and awed by his power of persistence. I look at him with a huge new dose of respect. He has become a hero in my book. I’m also relieved that I said no — what if I’d been the last one he called?

We are relieved later in the day when we learn that he found a sophomore who is thrilled to attend the Prom with him.

***

Twenty years later, I begin a new adventure selling Mary Kay Cosmetics as a hopefully profitable sales training course. The hardest part for me is picking up the telephone. I detest calling for appointments, knowing I’ll often be turned down.

One day I remember Walter and Prom and I’m inspired anew by his courage. If Walter could work through seven rejections before getting a prom date, I can certainly handle my list. My rejection rate is nowhere near that high! On the strength of this memory, I hit my stride and eventually win enough contests and awards to feel ready to move on to new challenges.

***

Even today, almost forty years after that prom, when I hear the mention of JFK’s book, Profiles in Courage, I think of Walter. In my book, he is as big a hero as any of them.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Great story! You really do have to respect Walter's perseverance!

WWII was raging when I was a senior and the school canceled our Prom. Obviously, I was a Senior long before Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer and I don't know of a single girl who would have turned down a date to the Prom. I think that must have taken a lot of courage to stick to your principles. Walter wasn't the only one to be lauded.


Poor Walter! I agree that the boys had to have a lot of courage to face the rejection. When I was a teen ager(Shortly after the Punic Wars) I would have rather stayed home on a Saturday night than have to be the person who did the asking.
Walter deserves a lot of credit for asking all seven of you and you and your friends were very wise not to discuss the order of Walter's calls.Smart move!!!!!

In those days, boys really did have to muster a lot of courage, and some learn to cope with a lot of rejection. Walter must have had a pretty good sense of himself to persevere as he did, or was more fearful of the culture's attitude toward him if he didn't have a date for the Prom. Come to think of it, I think in those days individuals without a date didn't go to Proms -- the shame and humiliation of it all that no one wanted your company was certainly a black social mark. Rather courageous of you girls to take such a stand. I lived in a rather unusual public school district, so never had to cope with that.

Torn between pledge and pleasure...
Seems you had a group of true sisterhood. I find it hard to believe one of you didn't say yes, but I'm a guy. What do I know? Glad he became an inspiration and now that you've written HIS story, he can do it over and over again. I'm sure he became a hero in that sophomore's book also.

At our school it was "Harold." Harold was that one geeky kid whose parents had never let on that he was a geek. Harold had two first names. Harold was long-legged and a tendancy to be like the little whipped dog who still lapped at your hand.

My mother told me it was rude to turn down one offer of a date and then accept someone else's. It may have been only mother's rule as I did not see anyone else having such problems......BUT.....Harold would call on a Monday to ask if I would sit with him on the bus Friday night en route to the ball games. I could sidestep that one by saying all the cheerleaders had to sit together. He would call on Tuesday to ask if I would go to the dance with him and I would lie, if necessary, to say I already had a date and then hope that I did. THEN he began asking for the following Friday nights into eternity and it was tricky. And icky. Under NO circumstances would our group understand anyone being Harold's date, and as much as I felt sorry for the lanky bony pup, I was not willing to encourage him by committing to an evening that would only be confusion in its highest. The other girls didn't seem to have any problems laughing at him when he called, and I wished somehow that my mother's rule to be nice to everyone could just go away for a little while - at least long enough to get rid of Harold's calls.

At Harold's funeral in our Senior year, his mother told my mother how much Harold always appreciated my kindnesses -- never mentioning what she probably realized -- that Harold just did not fit in the extremely small social world of my small town. Nor did she mention that Harold ever seemed to notice how many of the kids treated him.

And I felt very small and hoped - no KNEW - that where Harold now resided, he was warmly accepted and loved and at peace.

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