Last night was A Night to Remember. Why the title case? Because it’s this really awesome event, founded by Rob and Cheryl Shields, titled “A Night to Remember.” Here’s the brief description from the website: “A Night to Remember is a FREE Prom honoring students with special needs ages 15-22 yrs. old. It’s more than a Prom…it’s an experience! Our Honored Guests get hair/make-up done, limo rides, and walk down the Red Carpet complete with paparazzi before entering the dance/dinner. It’s also a night of integration – as each student with special needs is partnered up with a San Diego high school student who serves as their host.”
Cheryl is the sister of a friend who shared a status about seeking prom dress donations. I’ve seen mention of the event in my Facebook feed at least a year or two in the past, but this was the first year that I participated. When the posts came around about the dress drive, I realized that I’d be in San Diego later that month, so I thought, hey, I could collect some dresses and take them down there (I live about 2 1/2 hours away). So, I did. A couple friends, a friend of a friend, a daughter of my mom’s coworker, a friend of the family — they all participated, too, by donating gently used prom dresses. Though I was too late for the official dress drive, Cheryl was kind enough to let me drop them off to her in Chula Vista late on a Friday evening. While I was there and meeting Cheryl for the first time, she invited me to volunteer at the prom, too.
By the time I decided I would come down to volunteer at the event, the only team that had space for more volunteers was the Paparazzi team. The description, from the site, “This team will bring the noise! The “paparazzi” will cheer, clap, and yell for our honored guests to make them feel like stars on the red carpet.” How awesome is that?
I’ll be honest, it sounded awesome in theory or for other people. For me? I don’t love being in crowds, I’m more than a decade past a time when I’d maybe have yelled and cheered, not that I did much of it then either, and it meant a 2 1/2 hour drive to get there and another one to get back, and I’m not a huge fan of driving. Suck it up, right? In choosing to live a better, more meaningful story, to engage and be visible, I’m trying to say yes to more of life and to more of the things that I might have just said an automatic no to in the past. I signed up to be part of the paparazzi and I’m so glad I did.
It was a privilege and honor to be with the hundreds of people, family of attendees and volunteers, lined up on the sides of the red carpet, celebrating and cheering on the honored guests. Honestly, just the courage to traverse that red carpet surrounded by that crowd of people was an inspiration to witness. There were tons of signs and posters and bells and cameras and so much joy. I have never “woo”-ed so much in my life. The honored guests were beautiful and handsome and magical. The families were transfixed, to see their loved ones so celebrated and to celebrate them. Honored guests high fived, danced, wheeled, selfie-ed, posed their way down the red carpet accompanied by their student hosts. It was a beautiful evening!
It was a thought-provoking evening, too.
How much more awesome would life be if we spent more time cheering on each other, cheering on the least of these? Not a cheering section for the celebrities we see in the media, not for the mega church pastors and speakers, not for the renowned. For the lowly, the meek, the humble, the lost, the sick, the wounded, the abandoned, the widow, the poor, the marginalized. What if we treated each other like honored guests?
Encouragement should be suited to the recipient for it to be received as encouragement. For some noise-sensitive honored guests, we cheered quietly/silently with ASL applause. For others, we cheered loudly. For some, it was high fives. For others, it was dancing. If we don’t encourage in ways that the encouragee can receive it, then we aren’t being very encouraging.
I want to be a better cheering “section.” I’m kind of an analytic (or analytical, if you prefer) person, I tend to be a problem solver, and it often translates into advice giving or trying to fix or help. I tend to offer more exhortation than encouragement. I’m not saying those are inherently bad things or not worthwhile things, but while cheering on those honored guests, it struck me that I want to do more cheering and less helping, less fixing. People often don’t really want to be helped or fixed; people need to be loved and encouraged. Even if fixing and helping is my expression of love, it isn’t necessarily received as love. I’m going to work on being a cheering section more often, to be a safe place for love and encouragement.