There’s a running joke between Marc and his parents that in the more comfortable years of our relationship, has spilled into our conversations as a kind of last-liner. Some variation of “… to military school!” will pop up when Marc is recounting his preadolescent years or looking ahead, dreaming up what sort of miscriants will appear at our door step with the intention of taking Zoey out.
I remember learning that Marc was sent to military school and thinking “You must have been really, really awful!” From everything I’ve heard, this wasn’t true. He simply didn’t do well without a certain level of structure and he’s still this way! I wonder how the man who sleeps through 12 alarms survives training where he has to be up at 4:30 a.m. every morning. (The answer is being woken up by a man four times your size screaming over your bed. Yeah, I’ll take the i-marimba , thanks!) Though it was not his first (or second or thirty-third…) choice at the time, now Marc wouldn’t trade his years at Hargrave Academy for anything. This was an essential time for his individuation and it gave him a structure that suited his nature perfectly.
It took me a while to see that. For a long time I thought “…well that’s one way to handle things.” However, as I’ve grown with Marc I’ve really come to believe that he doesn’t do everything wrong just because he does things in a different context than I do. Now, I also understand his years away at school were a really important part of his development. These years very abruptly marked the beginning of a new life phase, physically removing him from his childhood, and exposing him to a network of mature adults outside of his parents who would guide and teach him as he grew.
I struggle to think of the ways our culture marks this shift from childhood towards adulthood. I can think of Bat or Bar Mitzvahs and confirmation, southern “debuts” for young women…and that’s about it. We’re continuing to rebel again ages of putting too much of the emphasis on tradition and practice and as consequence we’re now severely lacking rites of passage and ritual learning that leads to these celebrations. Still, we collectively shake our heads at those dang teenagers… What’s with them? Don’t they know how to act? Answers: They’re leaping into a different developmental stage and no. No they don’t because no one has given them a template, training, no one has provided mentorship.
Over the years he’d come to see solid sense in the ways so-called savage peoples formalised their rituals of manhood; without such regulation, young men seemed compelled to invent their own, even more lethal, rites of passage.
As I write, I’m watching a cooking competition show. The contestants are racing to finish an entrée in twenty minutes. One chef has summed it up nicely, “it’s like we just from beginning to end.” This is how we operate as a people: beginning and enders. We “get” children and adults but teenagers are way too in the middle for us. We see birth and death with a pit stop for marriage somewhere in between but along with rites we’ve left behind the celebration of rituals somewhere along the way.
Just as rites serve as a starting point, rituals can be like bench marks, like the physical places (the childhood bedrooms, beach houses, high school reuinions) where we return every now and then to touch, remember, and measure our growth. Growing up we celebrated the same religious and season rituals every year and while there was a certain amount of eye rolling that went along with some of these practices they served as stabilizing points for me during years of rapid change. Whether it was reading The World’s Birthday on Rosh Hashanah, using sidewalk chalk in the dark on Epiphany, putting our shoes out on Saint Nicholas Day, or attending the sunrise service with my father every Easter, I could count on and look forward these markers every year.
Every day our schedules are becoming a little more cramped. With all the beautiful things coming from our minds, hearts, and energies we’re sometimes forgetting to leave some space. Again, maybe we’re intentionally forgetting. Maybe we fear the passage of time, maybe we only see growing as aging…
Quite a lot of our contemporary culture is actually shot through with a resentment of limits and the passage of time, anger at what we can’t do, fear or even disgust at growing old.
…But we’re choosing routine over ritual way too often, becoming meaninglessly cyclical. And the consequence of our fear is that we turn the beauty of time, history, and pause into complete blur.