“…the rehearsal will cause a certain amount of noise and distraction in your hallway, in the same way that the Pacific contains some water. But, you know, rites of passage are seldom painless, are they? And as your assorted alumni make rude gestures and farting noises at you through your classroom windows, thereby proving once again that things have changed remarkably little since the barbarian hordes swept through the Roman Empire to pillage and burn, take solace in an immortal truth: that this particular rite of passage signals an important thing: these scholars will soon be gone from our august hallways… and busy causing mayhem somewhere else.”
I think the most important phrase is the one noting most ROP, while important, seldom tend to be painless. And what of the characteristics of them? Upon reflection --- having just experienced a pretty significant rite of passage myself, which, as you may well surmise, prompted today’s thoughts --- I’d say rites of passage have at least four main characteristics:
First, they involve highly significant moments in our life journeys, typically signifying major transitions from one state or period to another.
Second, while these milestones tend to be of only marginal/passing interest to most of the outside world, they are of major interest to us… or, if not us, then in many cases, our families. (Case in point: I didn’t go to my first university convocation because I’m one of those people who fail to see the point in parading across the stage with all the rest of the cattle, hearing my name called and receiving five seconds of politely disinterested applause before the next anonymous victim is named. However, I did attend my second university convocation. Oh, yeah, you betcha. Not because I’d had a change of heart. No, no, no; because after my first convocation, my mother, God rest her soul, pulled one of her patented I’m-not-angry-with-you-just-terribly-terribly-hurt routines which I know all children, regardless of age, are intimately familiar with. I’m sure it’s a required technique all impending mothers learn at mommy school… you know, along with more mundane things like changing diapers.)
Third, these experiences range emotionally from the tedious to the terrifying, the exhausting to the exhilarating, and the terrific to the tragic.
And fourth, some ROP are what I would characterize as builder milestones, others as retreat milestones, particularly later-life situations.
Think about the ROP we undergo for a moment: birth (well, most of us don’t have too many memories of that particular ROP --- which on reflection is probably not a bad thing at all), walking and talking (same), beginning school, moving from elementary to junior high to high school, graduating high school, being formally recognized as an adult (at least physically), post-secondary education, first jobs, first relationships, marriage (I wanted to write mawwidge like the Impressive Clergyman from Princess Bride, but decided not to), children, careers, retirement, grandchildren… and, of course, the ultimately final ROP, the one Will describes as moving on to “the Undiscovered Country, from whose bourn no traveller returns.”
These are all highly significant personal moments, snapshots in time if you will, of our respective life journeys. They are (mostly) moments we all share, so in that sense, they tend to be relatable to each and every one of us, which gives us a common frame of reference across the human condition. And, you’ll notice, a lot of them also involve firsts --- and sometimes, lasts. Quite a few are also what you could call involuntaries, in the sense that they occur quite without any conscious decisions or consent on our part.
The ROP I’ve just experienced? Ah, yes, thanks for asking. I retired. Just last week. From a secondary school teaching career spanning nearly three and a half decades. A mostly very rewarding career. And it was a voluntary ROP whose time, I decided, had come --- despite the fact it was also a very daunting ROP, signalling as it did a profound shift in the way I am about to live my life. Maybe that’s one of the most telling things about ROP: they also tend to signal major changes in our lives, and, given that most of us tend to have a lot of difficulty/anxiety with change, it’s easy to see why many people view some ROP with a certain amount of dread. I didn’t dread retirement, not exactly. I’ll go so far as to confess to being a little daunted by this profound shift, but am fairly confident that, with the help of friends and loved ones, I’ll be able to successfully navigate the sometimes-rocky channels of change without running aground or hitting any icebergs.
Anyway, ‘tis done. (As Will says, “If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly.” Or something to that effect.) Today is the first day of, not retirement, but a change in careers.
Full steam ahead! (Or “ahead, warp factor one.”)