If you don’t initiate the young, they will burn down the village to feel the heat.
It was a time of intense contrast.
How to make sense of it all? It was almost like the world was getting bigger and clearer – while at the same time getting harder to understand, with more conflict, more difficult feelings. And every attempt to make sense of it just revealed more discomfort, more confusion, more awkwardness.
I didn’t know how to make sense of what I perceived. No longer a little boy, but not yet a big boy, the world was now related to me through peers and teachers, risks and rules, nature and culture, desires and fears. It was so awkward! Where comfort and play had lived so brightly, so naturally, difficulty and lostness now dimly resided. And as much as I longed for the opportunity to be a big kid, to drive cars and swear and smoke and wear cool clothes, other, very large parts of me still longed to curl up in my mommy’s arms, to feel everything as simple again.
Almost overnight, there were responsibilities and expectations that were surprising and unwanted. I didn’t want to do my homework! I didn’t want to make new friends! I didn’t want to compete, do the dishes, make fun of other kids. I didn’t want – or even know how – to respond to all the new demands of the world that came in too many new contexts and forms to name, to understand, to master.
It was all too fast, too soon, like some waking from a nap, the paradise I didn’t know to hold onto now drifting away from me, inexplicably leaving me here in this body, in this awkward place of other kids, of smells and hair and feelings and the constant, unfair, impossible task of becoming something I didn’t know how to become. Comparing myself to everything I wasn’t. Knowing the world through all the ways it bewildered me.
When I reflect on that confusing, vulnerable time, the sensations and images reveal what I imagine to be a common experience: a boy coming of age, entering the world of situations, with no narrative or containment to hold him, to help him paddle those rough, choppy waters – and no knowledge that he should or could want those things. A boy needing mentoring and mirroring. A boy needing ritual. A boy needing a story bigger than his own.
So what replaces that lacuna of narrative and containment – of story, of meaning – in the heart and soul of a boy who needed it but never received it? Who meets his outward gaze, searching the horizon for explanations to the strange and uncomfortable, as he learns about it all the hard way? Can any of us know the answers to these questions?
We guess that where there should have been ritual, there may have been anxiety. Where there should have been reflection, there might have been self-criticism. Where there should have been pride, there may have been anger. Where there should have been belonging, there was the temptations and pressure of peers. And where there should have been story to contain the confusion and anxiety – clothing those initiatory slings and arrows in myth and meaning – there was the hungry ghost of convenience culture, blindly seeking the next body-proxy for its ruinous project of self-referencing banality.
That was how it was.
And while it happened this way, it needn’t always be this way, at least not in the same intense way. We can show up for the youth of our valley – the boys, the girls, the gender-queer and beyond. We can walk alongside them, creating a culture where instead of confusion, they’ll feel belonging. Instead of failure, they’ll feel pride. Instead of impulses towards violence and numbness, they’ll feel security.
We cannot rescue our children from the discomfort of coming up in this troubled world. But we can walk alongside them, showing up in the discomfort with them, as kin, as village-members, as mentors. Helping them confront the darkness, not seeking to change it, but telling the stories that give the darkness a home, a place to pray.
Our job is not to comprehend or control everything, but to learn which story we are in and which of the many things calling out in the world is calling to us. Our job is to be fully alive in the life we have, to pick up the invisible thread of our own story and follow where it leads. Our job is to find the thread of our own dream and live it all the way to the end.
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Previously published on pietervw
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