Patty Craig: A Slice of Time
A rite of passage is a ritual event that marks a person's progress from one status to another. Rites of passage are often ceremonies surrounding events related to puberty, coming of age, marriage and death. In North America today, typical rites of passage are baptisms, bar mitzvahs and confirmations, school graduation ceremonies, weddings, retirement parties, and funerals. They mark important changes.
Other events may be rites of passage, too. For example, the cutting of the hair when a person joins the Army is "cutting away" the former self – the civilian. A second example of a rite of passage is the walkabout, a rite for male Australian Aborigines. Adolescent males live for a time in the wilderness. During the walkabout, the young male traced the paths, or "songlines", of their people's ancestors and imitate their heroic deeds. Another rite of passage is the white coat ceremony, a relatively new ritual in some medical schools that marks the student's transition from the study of preclinical to clinical health sciences. This ceremony typically involves a formal "robing" of students in white coats, the garb physicians have traditionally worn for over 100 years and other health professions have adopted more recently. Also, the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer is a rite of passage for students graduating from a Canadian engineering program. The ceremony recounts the duties and responsibilities of the engineer, and the Iron Ring, a symbol of the obligations and ethics of the profession, is placed on the little finger of the working hand where it will rub against the drawings and papers as the engineer writes. The Iron Ring may be made from either wrought iron or stainless steel. Rites of passage mark our achievements.
Our children, like many others, have experienced several rites of passage – sometimes with reluctance. One daughter’s adolescent rite of passage was marked by a change of appearance. She put away her glasses and joined the world of contact-wearers. And, she determined her hair would be straight, not curly. She had taken control of her appearance and turned a corner in maturity. A different daughter “put on the brakes” about getting her driver’s license. She was perfectly capable of driving, but was in no hurry to be on the road. When questioned, she said, “I’ve been riding with other people for 16 years, why would I be in a hurry to drive now?” But, she moved into the driver’s seat before her senior year. Another daughter refused to live in the college dormitory. She explained that she did not want to live in a place where flip flops were worn in the shower. Yet, four years later, she joined the college-graduate population.
A rite of passage, whether positive or negative, marks a life change. The writer of Ecclesiastes 3:1 said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Rites of passage are the mile markers in life.