Remembering a Brave Prom King

Corsage and CrownMost people attend a prom or two, but I’ve attended lots of proms. Like most teenage girls, as a high school junior, I was excited about the prospect of my first prom. Truthfully, it wasn’t much fun, since the boy I had a crush on didn’t ask me.

My senior prom was monumentally worse. By then, I was a patient at Toledo State Mental Hospital following an almost fatal suicide attempt. After spending a couple months in a private psychiatric ward, my insurance ran out. I was committed to the decaying institution that then housed thousands of mentally ill individuals. Before Mental Health reform, that horrible place was reminiscent of the one depicted in the classic film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Battling depression and an eating disorder, I looked more like a 17-year-old Holocaust victim than a carefree teenager. The psychiatrist granted me a weekend pass hoping that attending prom would lift my spirits. My date was a classmate who suffered from epilepsy. He must have empathized with my situation, and proudly escorted me to the prom ignoring the stares from a few overly-curious students.

Fast forward three decades to May 2002, when my life looked nothing like that struggling teen. Faith, education, and the support of a few encouraging mentors had positively changed my circumstances. I was also engaged to a wonderful man who was a school administrator, whose job necessitated that we chaperone prom. Never having had an opportunity to go to prom together, Larry and I decided to don a tuxedo and gown and make it our night, too. Larry and me

Since then, my husband and I have attended quite a few proms. The impressive decorations, twinkling lights, and colorful dresses, still take my breath away. But the prom I remember most vividly is the one when a precious senior who was dying of bone cancer was elected prom king. It was the last year that my spouse served as a middle/high school principal at a rural school in northwestern Ohio.

We had all come to love this quiet dark-haired youth whose given name was Anthony-Dillon James. Better known as A.J., he had waged a long and valiant battle against Osteosarcoma. For nine months, he was spot-free, but then the disease turned deadly. Despite his illness, A.J. was compassionate and wise beyond his years.

Somehow in a tight-knit community where folks have known each other forever, tragedy is worse, because everyone is affected. Prom wouldn’t have been prom without A.J. being there, and he knew it. Even though, it had been months since the senior had been able to attend school, he mustered all his strength and accompanied by his dedicated fiancée`, he showed up looking handsome in a white tuxedo.

As the disc jockey played pulsating music, the students danced energetically, while silently grieving the inevitable loss of the fun-loving youth who had always been part of them. When his classmates voted for their prom king, I shouldn’t have been surprised  when A.J.’s name was announced.

There was a moment when the reality of the high school student’s dismal prognosis hit me full force. It happened when a pretty senior asked if she could take a picture with him, and they  posed humorously cheek to cheek with toothy grins. What A.J. didn’t see, was that when the blonde turned away, her expression crumbled into a painful grimace. She had taken the photo as a memory of the boy she had probably known since kindergarten, realizing he would soon be gone. Like a trained actress, before she turned to face A.J. again, the golden-haired girl mustered her courage and smiled brightly. Her affection for her terminally-ill classmate wasn’t romantic love driven by adolescent hormones. Rather it was the kind of caring that country kids take for granted growing up in a close circle of friendship.

When my husband and I visited him for the last time, A.J. sensed that my heart was breaking. He smiled his dazzling smile, and said, “I’ll be okay.” Then the 18-year-old lifted his T-shirt sleeve and displayed a large tattoo of a compassionate Jesus. A visual reminder of the Bible’s promise, “I am the Resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”

That July, the bravest prom king I’ve ever known took his last Earthly breath. Still, he lives on in the hearts of those he inspired, forever wearing a white tuxedo and a jeweled crown.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an AP & Amy award-winning journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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My Bucket List: Paris, a House, and Saving Someone’s Life

OakTara author, Christina Ryan Claypool

OakTara author, Christina Ryan Claypool

If you want to talk about bucket lists, you could begin by viewing the film that started the conversation about this topic. In explanation, the 2007 movie, The Bucket List, was my catalyst for mentally composing my own list of must-do-things before I kick the proverbial bucket. The film stars acclaimed actors Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman who both have terminal cancer. Together they set out on a journey to complete their own “to-do” before dying list. One of The Bucket List’s most comedic moments happens when Freeman [Carter Chambers] argues with Nicholson [Edward Cole] about jumping from the open door of a plane. Although jumping from a plane sure wouldn’t be on my list, because I’ve always had a fear of heights. That’s the beauty of the bucket list. It’s different for everyone. For example, my long-ago career goal of becoming a network TV anchor now seems like just an elusive dream. I did get to work in small market Christian broadcasting for years, but never moved up the ranks. I’ve often thought how great it would be to sit in Diane Sawyer’s chair just for a night, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. Still, you will find getting back into TV on my list, despite the fact that I’m fifty-something.

Also on my bucket list, there’s my lifelong desire to see Paris which could be easily accomplished with a little mad money. I readily admit that checking travel costs to Paris has been a way of life for a long time now. Despite budget constraints, one day I’m going to have to bite the financial bullet to make it to the Eiffel Tower.

Twenty Wishes 2In 2009, after reading a book by New York Times bestselling author, Debbie Macomber titled, Twenty Wishes, I penned my personal list of the 20 things that I would like to achieve before I die. Before that, my bucket list had only been stored in my overcrowded mind. After competing it, I put this important piece of paper in the back of my burgundy leather Bible. Sometimes, I study the now tattered from handling page of my before I check-out of this world desires. I’ve even been able to cross a few off. For example, a life goal had been teaching adults at college level. In 2010 that dream was accomplished when I became an adjunct instructor for Mount Vernon Nazarene University.

I had also wanted to win an award, because although some folks think I’m a successful writer, truthfully I haven’t made much money. Yet I have received enough rejection letters/emails these past two decades to paper the bathroom walls. That’s why, I began to wonder, if I was any good at my craft. It was an amazing surprise when last May I was awarded the national $10,000 first prize in the Amy Writing Awards for a newspaper feature for The Lima News about a family who grappled with forgiving the man who brutally murdered their loved one. To read the article click here: Finding Forgiveness and the Amy Writing Awards. If you are a writer, please read More about the Amy Writing Awards, because you could be a winner, too.

OakTara Publisher's Real-life love stories, the anthology, "My Love to You Always" compiled and edited by Ramona Tucker and Jennifer Wessner

OakTara Publisher’s Real-life love stories, the anthology, “My Love to You Always” compiled and edited by Ramona Tucker and Jennifer Wessner

Just a few months later, I was delighted to find out that I had won another contest. This one sponsored by OakTara Publishers. My short real-life love story about experiencing the heartbreak of divorce, then being given another chance at late in life love with my wonderful husband, Larry Claypool, titled, “Finding the Courage to Love Again,” had been accepted. The story made it into OakTara’s Christian Romance Anthology, My Love to You Always. I was just one of 42 authors to be included in the book, which was released in October 2012.

Then more exciting news, I was also named a winner in OakTara’s Romance Short Story Fiction Contest. My story, “Not just another casserole lady,” was included in the publisher’s Christian romance anthology, I Choose You which was released last month.  For me, this was doubly exciting, because it was the first time that I was blessed to have a fictional piece published. Of course, getting to Paris, having a grandchild, and buying a home instead of renting, are still dreams that haven’t been fulfilled. But that’s OK, because this simply means there’s more time for me to finish this wonderful journey called life.

OakTara Publisher's Romance Anthology, "I Choose You" compiled and Edited By Ramona Tucker and Jennifer Wessner
OakTara Publisher’s Romance Anthology, “I Choose You” compiled and edited by Ramona Tucker and Jennifer Wessner

Speaking of life, one of the most important entries on my list of twenty wishes is to, “Save someone’s life.” I’m not sure how to accomplish this. I’ve been telling my husband that if he would agree to let me rescue a cute little puppy, I could check this one off. But alas, he has severe allergies.

A bucket list is a wonderful tool to remind us of our dreams. Because for most of us, it is in fanning the embers of our God-given visions, no matter how old we are, that can help us get through the difficult days.  After all, having goals gives us something to look forward to; keeping us hopeful, youthful, and reaching for the stars.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and on Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. She blogs at www.christinaryanclaypool.com/blog1

 

 

 

 

 

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