Last night I felt truly blessed to be a part of a 16th birthday celebration with seven wise women and one very mature and poised 16-year-old. After sharing delicious food with an Asian theme, we shared memories of what we were like at 16, what we had learned since then, what we admired about the birthday girl, and advice for her future. We also brought photos of ourselves at age 16, which were a great source of mirth.
It's so different to be 16 now than it was in the 70s. Teens nowadays face such different pressures. I am gratified to observe how most youth are more open-minded than my generation or the generations that precede mine. For example, this young woman shared with us how she does not stand for homophobic language and tells her peers that it is unacceptable. I admire this in her, for I have always felt I need to be better about calling out unacceptable behavior or language. I tend to internalize my feelings and get angry about it instead of calling it out. (This is why I loved the show "Murphy Brown"--she was so shameless in expressing her opinions and not caring what people thought, and I wish I could be more like that sometimes.) So I deeply admire this in my young friend--and her poise and confidence in the spite of difficulties she is facing in her own life.
As I've discussed with my family, women tend to be much better at expressing admiration and appreciation for each other. But every person needs to hear these messages. Mike went to a boys' group activity with Chris a few years ago, when each boy was asked to bring an older male (either his dad or someone else). The men expected a ropes course activity--but more was involved. Mike said he was struck by the discomfort in many of the older men when each man was asked to look right into the eyes of the boy he accompanied, and tell him how much he meant in his life. Some of the men were clearly uncomfortable with the situation, but Mike said that it was also very moving and some of them broke down. I expect that if they had known in advance that this was going to be expected of them, they wouldn't have wanted to attend.
I remember when I was 16 or 17 and attended my first Episcopal Youth Encounter over a weekend. One of the most moving experiences of my life was when I received a bag of "palanca": letters and cards from my loved ones and friends, expressing their love, support, and prayers for me. Palanca is Spanish for lever, and just as a lever enables a person to move something beyond his or her normal strength, palanca empowers a person by encouragement or prayer to move beyond what they could normally do.
Every person should be the guest of honor at a "palanca" dinner, where the gathered guests share their hard-won battles and lessons learned and express admiration, hopes and dreams, and advice for the honored guest. My sister and I are already plotting similar events for her niece and our sons (we plan to engage the men in our family to facilitate those ones). Imagine how the world would look and how people would interact with one another if every person were validated and honored in such a way.