“A rite of passage is a celebration of the passage which occurs when an individual leaves one group to enter another. It involves a significant change of status in society. The term is now fully adopted into anthropology as well as into the literature and popular cultures of many modern languages.”
Sometimes we don’t even notice. Your first school uniform, your first kiss or your first proper drink. Perhaps your first mobile phone.
These are the milestones of life. Societies and religions around the world are built around seminal moments. The Barmittzpha, the first communion and any other culture you can think of has a “coming of age”.
“Apache boys and girls, when they come of age undergo a four-day ritual to achieve their adulthood. This process is called “naive’s”. For the women, it’s a gruelling task involving multiple hours of dancing, prayer, and lessons, of self-esteem, sexuality, and healing.”
That definition didn’t mention the boys’ tasks. I’m sure it would have been something to do with hunting and swearing family or tribal allegiance. I think for British young lads it would be hunting girls and just swearing.
I remember my first away game. I hadn’t missed a home game for two years. But now I’d booked a coach to go to Leeds United. At the time Leeds were a top team. Under the leadership of Don Revie, they had won the Football League and FA Cup. They had a team of stars. Alan Clarke, Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter, Johnny Giles etc etc. We had no chance.
Within the first four minutes of the game their right back, Trevor Cherry went studs up into Colin Harvey’s groin. “You dirty get Cherry,” I shouted. At least seventy cross faces turned to see who was the owner of this critical scouse accent.
Now that was a mini rite of passage; taking on the role of the away supporter surrounded by home fans.
At the end of a decent game we lost two-one but I was in no danger. There were wise cracks: “Get back with the other monkeys. Go home and eat a rat. Don’t blaspheme in God’s own country.” There were smiles and handshakes. My disappointment had been tempered by good nature.
It wasn’t always like that at Leeds. On other occasions, I’d had bricks thrown at my head, been spat at and charged at. Another rite of passage I suppose; and I’m not just talking about the impending violence. I believe in the goodness of human nature. Unfortunately the tribal force of football supporters sometimes gets to KKK levels.
Learning to live with disappointment and disillusionment is yet another part of growing up.
We can all look back to key moments in our life. We may associate them with the processes of moving from childhood through puberty into maturity.
Those of us with life-changing conditions experience extra rites of passage. Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis gave me some adjustment time however. I am a good communicator and reader of inference. Every professional I dealt with in the diagnosis process tried to give me hope. I appreciated the sentiment but I knew I was going into another field. This was a different field with a host of new challenges.
I now openly define myself as disabled. It is sad but it’s a fact. I have had to cross a myriad of Rubicons to take in the nature of my condition. We often see rite of passage as a positive experience. A step into greater knowledge and maturity. But there is also realisation and understanding. I realised and understood that I was becoming disabled.
What are the distinctive mile posts for this growing curse? I think telling people is one of them; or at least choosing who you will tell and how you will break such a fundamental thread of information.
“I’ve got MS,” is a very blunt statement. I can only compare it with telling someone that they need to attend to a stray piece of nose matter. You wouldn’t go up to a stranger in the street and go “Oi, greeny nose,” whilst pointing straight at the offending detritus. Well I wouldn’t.
I’ve always been fascinated by the way people pass on their news.
Whether it’s understated or shouted from the highest hill, news brings out the thespian in so many people. As an actor, if you are any good you have a level of power over your audience. They are watching you and awaiting your next utterance.
Imagine the scene:
Stephen opened the door. He was confronted with the usual family members. They looked to his as he delicately closed the heavy oaken door. he took centre stage.
“I have something very important to tell you.” Granny stopped her knitting and turned her ear trumpet towards him. “I’ve been to the doctor’s”
“Oh not one of those tired excuses again,” scoffed Uncle Tosh. He paused to tap his pipe on the mantelpiece. “I told you to stop this nonsense and join the army. That’ll make a man out of….” Stephen raised hand to stop Tosh in mid-sentence. Stephen whispered a response.
“It’s serious.” Everyone leaned forward. There was expectant silence. Mother rattled her teaspoon against the side of her china teacup. She always did this as a way of letting everyone know she was still in the room. Stephen felt agitated by her futile gesture. “It’s Multiple Sclerosis,” he mumbled.
“Multiple your whatsits?” shouted Father. Stephen looked straight into his eye. “MS,” he reiterated before throwing down a leaflet onto the table and storming out of the room.
“Why does he want to multiply his groceries?” asked Granny before resuming her knitting.
I can even see it as a scene from an opera. Then again, would it be the eloquent detailed style of Purcell or the mighty hooting of Schoenberg?
Enough. I felt that to be loaded with such news was an ominous responsibility. Suffice to say, it was done over time. I had to explain it in several different ways. The hardest was the admission firstly to my pupils’ parents followed by the pupils themselves.
Two more obvious rites of passage in this rather ignoble branch of life are the use of walking stick and wheelchair. These are two distinct signs of undergoing some sort of physical struggle.
The walking stick was the most earth moving of the two.
It was the first public admission of my disabled guilt. And guilt is what I felt. It was helpful for getting around but somehow I felt that I was opting out. I could have manned up and gone on without it being stoic to the point of crawling.
But I knew the future. Progressive-this illness is progressive. Like the passing of the news, I chose my time when using the stick; especially at work.
“Is this pure affectation?” asked Gerald the vicar from the church next to the school. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the whole truth. He is a kind caring man. I didn’t want to see the disappointment in his face. He would learn eventually.
Unlike the delicate matter of revealing my walking-stick habit, the wheelchair arrived with the sound of gushing. It was the gush of relief. And the gush of my emptying bank account. There was no guilt or embarrassment. I bloody needed it. If I was going to get out and about, I needed wheels. I have them and I get out and about when I want to.
One final rite of passage I have passed through of late is not for everyone. Three weeks ago I had a tattoo. “Mid-life crisis” I hear you shout. With MS brain fog it’s more like mud life crisis.
Thank-you for reading.