My seniors are just beginning to read Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and Antigone, which are about many things but very much about the moment when we see our parents (or, coming from the other side I now know too well, our own children) as strangers, as antagonists, as obstacles to overcome on our way to our own lives.
Everything Oedipus did (or that others did to help him) to escape his parents, or that Creon's son does to hurt and reject his own father calls to mind what I see happen with so many seniors each year. Some parents last year often seemed to wonder who this person was that woke up in their son's or daughter's bed.
Sons who had been generally good kids suddenly were in trouble or just gone. I loaned an audiobook of Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses to a boy last year who, as he approched the freeway exit for our school, just kept going. He came back a week later. His parents had no idea where he had been.
Ryan told me he was listening to the book, to the part where the son rejects his parents who are splitting up, and just thought, "I am done with these people!" And like the boy in the novel who saddles up and rides south into Mexico, Ryan hit the gas and drove to Los Angeles where he slept on the couches of friends until he ran out of money and realized he needed to return home and graduate before he could move into the world on his own terms.
This violence of th e heart, the fire of emotions banked there in the darkness of our young hearts—it so often blinds us in our youth. Last year a senior girl who spent the year not talking to her parents—literally, nothing, not a word—chose to study the relationships between parents and kids for her final project to understand what had happened between them. She went around and asked people to jot down their own feelings about parents on index cards like Postsecret.
By the time she presented to the class, graduation only a week away, Clara confessed she had long ago forgotten why she did not talk to her parents, what wrongs she had imagined they committed. They had reconciled by then. All were at graduation, smiling, together, grateful.
Months later, her parents brought Clara to the airport, where she fled with their blessings and pride—to Ireland where she went to study, to become the fine young woman her parents raised her to be and which she was now ready to become thanks to their love, their example, their patience.