See You at the Pole (SYATP for short) – A prayer gathering held annually on the fourth Wednesday of September before school. Students meet around their school flagpoles “to lift up their friends, families, teachers, school, and nation to God.”
It happened again this year, just this past Wednesday. See You at the Pole. It would not have even occurred to me to think of it but for the random Twitter post that I happened across. “Today is See You at the Pole! Are your kids going to be there?”
If it weren’t for my two babies, I may have gotten up and driven over to the local high school. I might have parked just within view of the flagpole so that I could sit on the hood of my car with a paper coffee cup and watch.
Did just a few students appear – nervous, shifty, committed? Or was it, as I remember, a circle widening slowly but absolutely, like water spilled on pavement?
It’s been a while since I’ve been connected to the evangelical youth culture. And I find myself wondering if this movement still has the momentum it did in 1997 when I went for the first time. When I folded up my See You at the Pole t-shirt on my dresser the night before and couldn’t sleep for the stress, the wonder, the excitement of it all.
Of course I went to pray. We all went, on some level, to pray.
But on another, deeper level, I went there to find my people.
It is lonely to be fourteen. It is especially lonely to be a fourteen-year-old evangelical girl. You are awkward in all the normal ways, but for you, there is more. You cannot say the words that other kids say, do the things other kids do. You can’t just hope for any boy to like you; you have to make sure he loves Jesus and will wait on the sex.
Imagine the way your heart fills with hope, with relief, when you see the students start showing up at 7am. They drop their backpack, grasp hands, bow their heads. The circle is broad, and you can’t hear the person praying anyway, so you count. You hit a hundred and catch your breath. Many of them are boys. Some of them are even cute.
You hold hands. You feel electric with the belonging.
But then the bell rings. The group disperses, blending back into the student body in the hallways. You think you recognize a face here or there, but you can’t be sure. The moment is over. They are gone.
Of course, this was not, is not, the point of the rally at all. The point was to “lift up” peers and teachers and friends before the Lord. As I recall, it was meant as a daring act, a way to show your school exactly where you stood, what you believed, who you were.
I am standing at the flagpole. I am a Christian.
I get a little weepy when I think about all of this, about this year’s crop of fourteen-year-olds at their flagpoles. I am stunned always by their bravery, but it’s that fleetingness that feels so inauthentic to me in retrospect. In this moment, on this one morning every year, we stand together.
But then…what then?
The bell rings. The group disappears. The prayers float up to heaven like so many balloons and disappear into the sky.