It has long been a fascination of mine to examine life situations of others when they feel trapped. When I say trapped, I mean that there is a feeling of helplessness; a person knows deep inside that they were intended for much more in this world, and there is a vast potential ready to be put into action at some point! At the same time, there is a perceived barrier that prevents this potential from being realized and shared with the world, and powerful enough to bury it for decades to come, and too often, forever. Truly, one of the greatest tragedies that has ever occurred in our world is the knowledge that countless people have lived their lives and passed on, without ever being able to fully share their gifts with those around them.
One of the best examples of this helplessness comes from the movie “October Sky”, which many of us saw when it first came out a number of years ago. It chronicles the life of a boy named Homer Hickam, growing up in 1950s West Virginia, and a member of a coal-mining family in a coal-mining town. Based on a true story, he figured out in his teens that he had no interest in following his Dad and brother into the coal mine, to presumably spend the rest of his days in futility as a pawn for the company. He instead experienced something much larger – an irresistible fascination with space and rocketry that carried the potential to lead him to a life unimaginably satisfying to him, and unthinkably scary to anyone else in his hometown.
Homer lived in an interesting time, where it was considered responsible and necessary to be primarily concerned with providing security for one’s family. This would often mean having a limited degree of investment and love of one’s resulting career, but such ideals were far less important back then. Old-school thinking dictated that very often, one could not hope nor strive for a life much beyond the predictable: work for a good company, get a consistent, predictable income, and build seniority to the point where salary was maximized, and upon retirement a plaque or shiny new watch served as a thank-you for the years of service. To be fair, these were ideals of the time, and I’m sure I would have fallen right into them too.
In 2014, we have an opportunity to raise our children with a sense of wonder, encouragement, and fulfillment that works for our times. No longer do we have to strongly encourage them to think along the lines of working for a good company, or being ready to have few ambitions beyond being a housekeeper. An interview I heard this week with a human rights advocate named Jim Wallis (@jimwallis) suggested that at one time, there was an unwritten “social charter” that ensured while most working families would never get rich or have a great deal of disposable income, there was always enough. If that is no longer the case, then our children will benefit from our encouragement to dream and think BIG, which requires developing a healthy, dependable connection with them based in love.
So what might that mean for today’s parents? First and foremost, never underestimate the power of such a strong connection with your children. Whether they are young kids, older teens, or somewhere in between, chances are good they still desire a natural-feeling connection with both parents, wherever possible. They WANT to share how they feel with you, they YEARN for your guiding words and wisdom, and they NEED to experience who you really are as a person beyond the person who simply provides structure, meals, and accountability. Homer Hickam wished more than anything for his father to just acknowledge as valid his love for rockets, and to be able to look past the frustration and stress of coal-mining. When he chose not to offer this validation, as was the case for most of the movie, it is difficult to watch the life and energy simply drain out of Homer’s face.
Many of us have an opportunity to encourage young people to create the kind of life that fulfills them on a deep level. When they get this encouragement from those they love and trust, the effect on a child or teen can be nothing short of astounding. They will be much better able to accept dreams as possibilities, and see potential where others see only risk and disappointment. It is a gift we can freely choose to give, or to withhold, as we see fit.